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First video of liberated Kirkuk

Iraqi forces continue to re-establish control over northern regions, while facing little or no resistance from Kurdish militants.

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Kirkuk and its vast oil fields are now officially back under Iraqi control after years of illegal rule, first by the illegitimate ISIS terror group and since 2014 by unauthorised Kurdish militants. As Kirkuk falls outside of the constitutionally designated autonomous Kurdish regions of northern Iraq, there was never any legitimacy for the Kurdish regime’s rule.

Video has emerged of Iraqi troops entering the city centre where they faced no resistance from fleeing Kurdish Peshmerga militants.

Another video shows local Iraqis welcoming the troops as well as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) who have aided Iraqi regulars throughout the long battle against ISIS.

As I reported yesterday in the The Duran, this is significant as the majority Sunni population of Kirkuk has welcomed both a majority Shi’a Iraqi army as well as entirely Shi’a PMF forces:

“The Iraqi government claims to now be in full control of Kirkuk after taking the city centre and surrounding areas. Hours ago, Iraqi forces re-established control over the main city administration building as Kurdish Peshmerga have begun a mass retreat.

Iraq’s position, which is in keeping with Iraqi and international laws, is that troops were sent in to re-establish formal control over a city that was previously occupied by ISIS, and since around 2014, has been partly in the hands of Kurdish militants and self-proclaimed political leaders. Crucially, Kirkuk falls outside of areas designated as autonomous Kurdish regions, even though the Kurdish regime in Erbil attempted to claim Kirkuk by placing it on the map of a would be Kurdish statelet, as part of the 25 September secession referendum. This provocative move was among Iraq’s gravest grievance against Erbil during the course of the referendum.

Earlier, Kurdish media released a statement from the Peshmerga stating that Iraq will pay a “heavy price” for what it described as a “flagrant declaration of war”. However, it is theoretically impossible for Iraq to declare war on forces whose very existence in Iraq is conditional upon the previously agreed autonomous status for Kurdish areas, in accordance with the 2005 Iraqi constitution. These areas and in the case of Kirkuk, an important city beyond, have been thrown into chaos due to the unilateral secessionist referendum which was boycotted by Arabs and Turkomen who overwhelmingly support Baghdad.

Prior to the 25 September referendum, Iraqi Kurds enjoyed levels of regional autonomy that are unique in the context not only of the Middle East, but of most of the world. Even many Kurdish sympathisers are beginning to blame Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani for overplaying his hand by holding a provocative referendum that was condemned by every major world and regional power with the notable exception of Israel.

With Peshmerga forces rapidly retreating and with no real chance for Israel to supply Iraqi Kurds without a massive military operation that would incur the wrath of the wider region, including and especially Turkey, the Kurds in Iraq are now effectively as materially isolated as Turkish President Erdogan warned that they would be, should they continue their provocative post-referendum stance.

The only other conceivable scenario is for the US to supply Iraqi Kurds from their bases in Iraq. This however would mean that the US would effectively be declaring war on Iraq. As I previously discussed, there is every possibility that the US is covertly hoping that a Kurdish insurrection in Iraq provokes a wider conflict that the ISIS insurgency would effectively draw Iran deeper into Iraq, making Iranian forces subject to attacks from US proxies or even US forces themselves. There is little doubt in my mind that such a scenario has already been put into action. However, today’s events mean that these scheme may have failed before it even had a chance to be fully realised.

Given how rapidly Iraqi troops have been advancing, taking seemingly all of Kirkuk after a surge which begun approximately 24 hours ago, even a superpower as brazen as the US is running out of options. This is especially true as the Turkish President has yet again reiterated his commitment to secure northern Iraq with the cooperation of Baghdad, a promise whose seriousness is only enhanced by the fact that recent reports have indicated the presence of PKK activity in Kurdish regions of Iraq.

Unless the US wars to destroy what remains of its relationship with Baghdad while also fighting both Turkey and Iran, there are fewer and fewer options for America’s would-be proxy war against Iran.

After years of division, Iraq is unifying around support for the operations in Kirkuk and so too is the region ever more united behind the legal Iraqi position. What’s more is that words like “war” and “aggression” and worse yet, talk of retaliation, is only coming out of Kurdish propaganda outlets. Iraq continues to calmly state that it is merely re-establishing control of an Iraqi city. Iraq’s Prime Minister has further stated that troops have been told not to fire upon Kurdish Peshmerga militants, although of course they have and apparently are exercising the right to fight back in instances when Peshmerga are not in full retreat.

As was the case in respect of the secession referendum, both Russia and the US have stated that they condemn all violence, but that both view the recent clashes as an unfortunate incident rather than a larger or more profound existential crisis. To put it another way, both the Russian Foreign Ministry and the US Department of State are being highly diplomatic. In Russia’s case, this is standard procedure. In respect of the United States, I personally suspect it is a matter of keeping one’s cards close to one’s chest.

The Kurdish regime in Erbil as well as its known and supine puppeteers have seemingly bitten off more than they can chew. Furthermore, with Peshmerga forces retreating en masse, reports from recent years, stating that the Peshmerga reached covert agreements with ISIS to relinquish control of certain parts of northern Iraq, rather than engaging one another on the battlefield, now seem eerily believable. In trying to create a clean break from Iraq, the Kurdish regime is instead airing some very dirty laundry, all while taking major steps back from its previously comfortable autonomous status quo which is now in jeopardy due to the actions of Masoud Barzani”.

BREAKING: Iraq claims full control of Kirkuk

Now that international observers have confirmed Iraq has regained full control of the region, what is most apparent is the fragmented nature of the Kurdish militias. While most Kurdish fighters retreated or put up no resistance, others were goaded into fighting by angry local Kurds. This effectively shatters the myth of a united Kurdish regime in Iraq and has exposed the decades long political divisions among Iraqi Kurds as being as fractious today as they have been in the past.

With Turkey and Iran once again closing airspace over Kurdish regions of Iraq, creating a de-facto no-fly-zone with the permission of Baghdad, Russia has stated that it will evacuate its consulate in the de-facto Kurdish capital of Erbil, due to safety concerns.

Iraqi troops have further advanced to Sinjar, reclaiming another strategically important location from Kurdish forces who again, did not put up any significant fight.

Iraq’s advances represent a watershed moment in national unity as most factions in the country have united behind the common Iraq flag against an overzealous Kurdish regime led by the secessionist Masoud Barzani. This has been countered by the fractious nature of Kurdish parties, in spite of a propaganda campaign from Kurdish media which seeks to insinuate a sectarian conflict, blaming Iran and its Shi’a allies for an ‘attack’ on Kurds. This is effectively the opposite of what is actually occurring, but this narrative does fit the agenda of many in the US who seek to pivot their Middle Eastern strategy from using jihadist proxies to weaken Arab countries in the region (especially those allied with Iran) to one which seeks to use Kurdish proxies to do the same.

This however presents a unique set of problems for the US, as I explored in a previous piece, reproduced below:

“Statements coming from the Kurdish regime in Northern Iraq, which appear to reject recent overtures made by Iraq to negotiate a restoration of the automatons status quo in Kurdish regions in North Iraq, indicate that the Kurds are not acting alone in their provocations against Baghdad.

The following statements were Tweeted from Kurdish leaders in the aftermath of a recent visit of Iraq’s Parliamentary Speaker to Kurdish regions, which constituted Baghdad’s sincere attempt to de-escalate tensions. These statements appear to negate the atmosphere which as of last week, was tense but seemingly in the midst of a partial thaw.

There will not be any unilateral negotiation with Baghdad by either PUK or KDP. If there be any negotiation with Baghdad it will be a joint delegation representing all Kurdistan parties. KDP/PUK reject any demands to nullify the referendum results. Refuse preconditions

The Meeting in Dukan between KDP/ PUK ended. Good news on reiterating our national unity in the face of all pressure. Our readiness to reach peaceful resolution for current standoff in all area. Rejecting military option, but ready to defend.

 Over the last 48 hours, events have intensified in northern Iraq, as Iraqi forces have started to re-establish control over the city of Kirkuk, which was unilaterally claimed as part of a would-be Kurdish state by the regime in Erbil, during the unilateral secession referendum held on the 25th of September, 2017.

Iraq’s positions is that any act of Kurdish secession is illegal and furthermore, a serious security threat to the Iraqi state and wider region. Furthermore, Iraq will never recognise Kirkuk as part of a Kurdish autonomous region, nor will the local Arab and Turkomen populations of Kirkuk who have all rallied behind Iraq, in a unique display of inter-sect (Sunni and Shi’a) and inter-ethnic unity in Iraq.

As Turkish President Erdogan has correctly stated; with Baghdad, Tehran, Ankara and Damascus, all in opposition to Kurdish secession in northern Iraq, there is simply no way for a would-be Kurdish statelet in northern Iraq to logistically nor economically survive. With Iran, Turkey and Iraq threatening to embargo and effectively besiege such an entity, were it to be unilaterally proclaimed, the only hope for such a so-called “Kurdistan” would be if it had external support from a non-bordering state.

A quick examination of the states technically capable of and politically willing to supply such a Kurdish entity, while overcoming the military might of Iran and Turkey, quickly points to only one power. This is the United States. Both in terms of its technical might and its track record of defying all norms of diplomatic relations, Washington is uniquely placed to aid a would-be Kurdistan built on Iraqi soil, in defiance of the entire region, except for Israel, which would almost certainly continue to provide support for Iraqi Kurds, especially if doing so along with the US. Russia and China by contrast, have firmly committed themselves to the territorial unity of Iraq.

Even by American standards, Washington is caught between a rock and a hard place in respect of a would be Kurdish entity in Iraq. On the one hand, if the United States were to defy Baghdad, it would mean that Iraq would become ever more detached from the already pessimistic nature of its cooperation with the United States. Simultaneous to this, Baghdad would almost certainly move even closer to Iran in terms of security cooperation, economic cooperation and a broader geo-political alignment.

The danger is that, with Iraq still recovering from years of invasion, occupation and terrorism, that radical voices, such as that of the apparently influential, though unhinged Nikki Haley, would press for a US intervention on behalf of Israeli geo-political ambitions, in order to bolster Kurds in Iraq. This would constitute a new stage of the ongoing proxy war against Iran and one which would increasingly and inevitably also grow into a conflict with Turkey, in spite of Turkey’s continued, however grudging NATO membership.

As I wrote yesterday in The Duran:

“Iraq’s present geo-political position is that of the only country in the world where the two most influential countries inside its borders are the United States and Iran. To put this in perspective, imagine a country where the two most influential powers, each with its own troops working with various factions of such a state’s army, were Japan and North Korea.

But this is the awkward reality of modern Iraq, a country whose armed forces coordinate airstrikes with the USA and where in other parts of the country, on the same day, members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, train Iraqi troops and Popular Mobilization Units  to fight terrorism. What’s more is that Iraq has recently approached Iran to sign a wide ranging military security pact. All the while, the US maintains multiple military bases in Iraq, in addition to an embassy in Baghdad that is better described as a military fortress.

If the US was intent on ‘containing’ Iran at all costs or even maintain a power in the Middle East with a track record of not being afraid of Iran, the US could have simply continued to fund and arm Saddam Hussein. In rejecting Saddam and engaging in illegal regime change, the US severely underestimated the potential of a post-Ba’athist Iraq not to devolve into a battle ground of identity politics, one in which sheer mathematics would dictate more pro-Iranian factions than any other.

Now, the US is stuck in the rut that is contemporary Iraq. On the one hand, Iraq has been a major material investment for the US. This is one of the leading explanations for why the US condemned the recent Kurdish secession referendum in northern Iraq. Where Iraqi Kurds were once the go-to faction in Iraq for the US to undermine the old Ba’athist government and since 2003, a faction that the US exploited to promote a so-called ‘Iraqi success story’, today, the US wants to have its Kurdish cake and eat it too. In other words, while the US does not intend to publicly defame Iraqi Kurds, they also seek to preserve the unity of their investment called Iraq.

At least, this is what the US says in public, but privately, this may have already changed. Kurdish secessionists in Iraq decided to include the oil rich Iraqi city of Kirkuk on the map of a would-be Kurdish state, as part of the widely condemned secession referendum process. This has infuriated the Arab and Turkomen population of Kirkuk who see Kurds as attempting to annex a city which is not part of the existing autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq.

Over the last 24 hours, reports from Kirkuk, detailing intense fighting between the Iraqi military and the Kurdish Peshmerga militia. have been flowing in, albeit under the radar due to the media focusing more acutely on Donald Trump’s anti-Iran speech. While most Arab sources describe the battles as being fought between Iraqi Troops and Peshmerga, Kurdish outlets speak of clashes between a “foreign backed Iraqi army” along with Shi’a forces versus Peshmerga.

Thus one sees that generally pro-western and clearly pro-Israel Kurdish writers are proliferating a narrative where a foreign power, meaning Iran, is backing Shi’a Iraqis in a fight against Kurds.

The clear intention is to send the world a false message the the current fights in Kirkuk are an Iranian proxy battle against ‘wholesome Iraqi Kurds’. In reality, when reading between the liens, even in Kurdish propaganda outlets, one realises that the majority Shi’a Iraq army, the Sunni Arabs and Sunni Turkomen of Kirkuk, are all united behind the Iraqi flag against the Kurdish flag. In this sense, a battle which Kurds are trying to paint as a proxy sectarian war, is actually a rare example of Iraqi unity between Arabs and Turkomen, Shi’a and Sunni.

Thus, one sees the blueprint as well as the folly of the US and Israel’s real proxy war against Iran. Having failed in Syria and Lebanon, Iraq is the place where anti-Iranian forces will continue and likely ramp up their long-term anti-Tehran proxy war.

Whereas ISIS failed to destroy Iraq and also failed to limit Iranian influence on Iraq, the Kurds in Iraq will likely be the next proxy force used to attempt and draw Iran into a new conflict in Iraq. In the coming weeks and months, the headlines in fake news outlets warning of an ‘Iran/Hezbollah plot to take over Syria’, will likely be replaced with stories of ‘Iranian terrorists committing atrocities against Iraqi Kurds’. Of course, the more this strategy fails on the battle field, the more absurd the fake news stories will get, just as fake stories about Syrian chemical weapons tend to appear every time Damascus scores a substantial victory against al-Qaeda and ISIS.

The problem with the new plan for more proxy wars with Iran in Iraq, is that in the process, many Iraqi Arabs, as well as Iraqi Turkomen, may revive a pan-Iraqi identity in the process. Furthermore, if pro-Iranian Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq begin fighting for the rights of Sunni Arabs and Turkomen against Kurds, it could actually help to reconcile Iraqi Sunnis with Iraqi Shi’as.

This is the real game-plan against Iran and while it is a dangerous one, it ultimately will not be an effective one. In many ways, it may even be less effective than the attempt to use ISIS and other Takfiri groups to draw Iran into a losing war in the Arab world. Here, the opposite has happened, Iran has worked with legal state partners to cooperate and ultimately secure victory against Takfiri jihadists.

When and if the conflicts in Iraq finally end, the only question remaining will be: What to do with the deeply unpopular US bases in Iraq? There are only two options:

1. Perpetual stalemate

2. A 1975 Vietnam style withdrawal

The United States plans to end Iranian power in Iraq, but it is becoming increasingly likely that Iraq will instead be the graveyard of US hegemony. In many ways, it already is”.

The proxy-war against Iran is under way in Iraq and has just entered a new phase

In this sense, the ongoing Battle of Kirkuk is already a test of Iraqi unity versus that of Kurdish forces. This combined with Kurdish unwillingness to negotiate with a still surprisingly malleable Baghdad, would appear to indicate that the Kurds are biding their time and waiting to see if external support will come there way. Because of the vast American presence in Iraq, this ‘external’ support wouldn’t even be logistically difficult for the US, certainly not at first anyway.

Either the Kurds are once again hoping against hope and simply wishing for direct US assistance or they know something the rest of the world can only guess at. It is increasingly possible that the Kurds realise that contrary to US public statements in support of Iraq’s territorial unity, that a secret plan is being hatched to help Kurds secede from Iraq. In doing this, the US would also be hoping to drag Iran and Turkey into the Iraqi quagmire that was first authored by the US, Israel and Britain in 2003.

The entire scenario is dangerous beyond conventional belief, but it is looking ever more likely that such a storm may be brewing”.

While I still have few doubts that many in the US would like to use a Kurdish proxy war in Iraq to provoke and ideally weaken the Baghdad-Tehran alliance, the speed with which Iraqi troops have advanced in Kirkuk and nearby regions, indicates that such a strategy will not be as easy as some, including the overtly pro-Kurdish John McCain, may have suspected.

The US is currently maintaining an officially neutral stance on the Iraq-Kurdish militant clashes, for fear of alienating either side. However, with the Kurdish militants apparently failing to put up any meaningful fight, many in the US ought to be questioning the sheer logistical reliability of their would-be proxies in the continued US regional struggle against Iran. In this sense, the victory of Iraq and its allies, is a further sign that however much the US invests in the Middle East, it is local powers that are best placed to shape their own future. This is exactly what the Iraqis have accomplished in Kirkuk and nearby regions.

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May survives ‘no confidence’ vote as UK moves towards March 29 deadline or Article 50 extension (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 168.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the ‘no confidence’ vote that UK Prime Minister May won with the a slim margin…meaning that though few MPs have confidence in her ‘Brexit withdrawal’ negotiating skills, they appear to have no problem allowing May to lead the country towards its Brexit deadline in March, which coincidently may be delayed and eventually scrapped altogether.

Meanwhile Tony Blair is cozying up to Brussels’ oligarchs, working his evil magic to derail the will of the British people, and keep the integrationist ambitions for the UK and Europe on track.

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Via RT


The UK government led by Theresa May, has survived to fight another day, after winning a no-confidence vote, tabled by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, following parliament rejecting the PM’s Brexit deal, earlier on Tuesday evening.

The no-confidence vote was defeated by 19 votes – the government winning by 325 to 306. It’s a rare positive note for May’s Tory cabinet after the humiliating Brexit defeat.

Speaking immediately after the vote, a victorious May said she was “pleased” that the House expressed its confidence in her government. May said she will “continue to work” to deliver on the result of the Brexit referendum and leave the EU.

May invited the leaders of parliamentary parties to meet with her individually, beginning on Wednesday evening.

“I stand ready to work with any member of this House to deliver on Brexit,” she said.

Responding to the vote, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that the House had “emphatically” rejected May’s deal on Tuesday. The government, he said, must now remove “clearly once and for all the prospect of the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit from the EU and all the chaos that would result from that.”

Labour will now have to consider what move to make next. Their official Brexit policy, decided by members at conference in September, states that if a general election cannot be forced, then all options should be left on the table, including calling for a second referendum.

Liberal Democrats MP Ed Davey also called on May to rule out a no deal Brexit.

The way forward for Brexit is not yet clear and May’s options are now limited, given that the Brexit deal she was offering was voted down so dramatically on Tuesday.

Gavin Barrett, a professor at the UCD Sutherland School of Law in Dublin, told RT that May will now have to decide if her second preference is a no-deal Brexit or a second referendum. Her preference will likely be a no-deal Brexit, Barrett said, adding that “since no other option commands a majority in the House” a no-deal exit is now “the default option.”

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Final Steps in Syria’s Successful Struggle for Peace and Sovereignty

The war of aggression against Syria is winding up, and this can be observed by the opening of a series of new embassies in Damascus.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The situation in Syria evolves daily and sees two situations very closely linked to each other, with the US withdrawal from Syria and the consequent expansionist ambitions of Erdogan in Syria and the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) takeover in Idlib that frees the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Russian aviation to liberate the de-escalation zone.

Trump has promised to destroy Turkey economically if he attacks the Kurds, reinforcing his claim that Erdogan will not target the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) once the US withdraws from the area. One of the strongest accusations made against Trump’s withdrawal by his opponents is that no Middle Eastern force will ever trust the US again if they abandon the SDF to its fate, that is, to its annihilation at the hands of the Turkish army and its FSA proxies. This, however, is not possible; not so much because of Trump’s economic threats, but because of Damascus and Moscow being strongly opposed to any Turkish military action in the northeast of Syria.

This is a red line drawn by Putin and Assad, and the Turkish president likely understands the consequences of any wrong moves. It is no coincidence that he stated several times that he had no problems with the “Syrians or Syrian-Kurdish brothers”, and repeated that if the area under the SDF were to come under the control of Damascus, Turkey would have no need to intervene in Syria. Trump’s request that Ankara have a buffer zone of 20 kilometers separating the Kurdish and Turkish forces seems to complement the desire of Damascus and Moscow to avoid a clash between the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and the SDF.

The only party that seems to be secretly encouraging a clash between the SDF and Turkish forces is Israel, criticizing Ankara and singing the praises of the SDF, in order to try and accentuate the tensions between the two sides, though naturally without success. Israel’s continued raids in Syria, though almost constantly failing due to Syrian air defense, and the divide-and-rule policy used against Turkey and the SDF, show that Tel Aviv is now weakened and mostly irrelevant in the Syrian conflict.

In Idlib, the situation seems to be becoming less complicated and difficult to decipher. Russia, Iran and Syria had asked Erdogan to take control of the province through its “moderate jihadists”, sit down at the negotiating table, and resolve the matter through a diplomatic solution. Exactly the opposite happened. The HTS (formerly al-Nusra/al-Qaeda in Syria) has in recent weeks conquered practically the whole province of Idlib, with numerous forces linked to Turkey (Ahrar al-Sham and Nour al-Din al-Zenki) dissolving and merging into HTS. This development puts even more pressure on Erdogan, who is likely to see his influence in Idlib fade away permanently. Moreover, this evolution represents a unique opportunity for Damascus and Moscow to start operations in Idlib with the genuine justification of combating terrorism. It is a repeat of what happened in other de-escalation areas. Moscow and Damascus have repeatedly requested the moderates be separated from the terrorists, so as to approach the situation with a diplomatic negotiation.

In the absence of an effective division of combatants, all are considered terrorists, with the military option replacing the diplomatic. This remains the only feasible option to free the area from terrorists who are not willing to give back territory to the legitimate government in Damascus and are keeping civilians hostages. The Idlib province seems to have experienced the same playbook applied in other de-escalation zones, this time with a clear contrast between Turkey and Saudi Arabia that shows how the struggle between the two countries is much deeper than it appears. The reasons behind the Khashoggi case and the diplomatic confrontation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia were laid bare in the actions of the HTS in Idlib, which has taken control of all the areas previously held by Ankara’s proxies.

It remains to be seen whether Moscow and Damascus would like to encourage Erdogan to recover Idlib through its proxies, trying to encourage jihadists to fight each other as much as possible in order to lighten the task of the SAA, or whether they would prefer to press the advantage themselves and attack while the terrorist front is experiencing internal confusion.

In terms of occupied territory and accounts to be settled, two areas of great importance for the future of Syria remain unresolved, namely al-Tanf, occupied by US forces on the Syrian-Jordanian border, and the area in the north of Syria occupied by Turkish forces and their FSA proxies. It is too early to approach a solution militarily, it being easier for Damascus and Moscow to complete the work to free Syria from the remaining terrorists. Once this has been done, the presence of US or Turkish forces in Syria, whether directly or indirectly, would become all the more difficult to justify. Driving away the US and, above all, Turkey from Syrian territory will be the natural next step in the Syrian conflict.

This is an unequivocal sign that the war of aggression against Syria is winding up, and this can be observed by the opening of a series of new embassies in Damascus. Several countries — including Italy in the near future — will reopen their embassies in Syria to demonstrate that the war, even if not completely over, is effectively won by Damascus and her allies.

For this reason, several countries that were previously opposed to Damascus, like the United Arab Emirates, are understood to have some kind of contact with the government of Damascus. If they intend to become involved in the reconstruction process and any future investment, they will quite naturally need to re-establish diplomatic relations with Damascus. The Arab League is also looking to welcome Syria back into the fold.

Such are signs that Syria is returning to normality, without forgetting which and how many countries have conspired and acted directly against the Syrians for over seven years. An invitation to the Arab League or some embassy being reopened will not be enough to compensate for the damage done over years, but Assad does not preclude any option, and is in the meantime demonstrating to the Israelis, Saudis and the US Deep State that their war has failed and that even their most loyal allies are resuming diplomatic relations with Damascus, a double whammy against the neocons, Wahhabis and Zionists.

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Google Manipulated YouTube Search Results for Abortion, Maxine Waters, David Hogg

The existence of the blacklist was revealed in an internal Google discussion thread leaked to Breitbart News.

The Duran

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Via Breitbart


In sworn testimony, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told Congress last month that his company does not “manually intervene” on any particular search result. Yet an internal discussion thread leaked to Breitbart News reveals Google regularly intervenes in search results on its YouTube video platform – including a recent intervention that pushed pro-life videos out of the top ten search results for “abortion.”

The term “abortion” was added to a “blacklist” file for “controversial YouTube queries,” which contains a list of search terms that the company considers sensitive. According to the leak, these include some of these search terms related to: abortion, abortions, the Irish abortion referendum, Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and anti-gun activist David Hogg.

The existence of the blacklist was revealed in an internal Google discussion thread leaked to Breitbart News by a source inside the company who wishes to remain anonymous. A partial list of blacklisted terms was also leaked to Breitbart by another Google source.

In the leaked discussion thread, a Google site reliability engineer hinted at the existence of more search blacklists, according to the source.

“We have tons of white- and blacklists that humans manually curate,” said the employee. “Hopefully this isn’t surprising or particularly controversial.”

Others were more concerned about the presence of the blacklist. According to the source, the software engineer who started the discussion called the manipulation of search results related to abortion a “smoking gun.”

The software engineer noted that the change had occurred following an inquiry from a left-wing Slate journalist about the prominence of pro-life videos on YouTube, and that pro-life videos were replaced with pro-abortion videos in the top ten results for the search terms following Google’s manual intervention.

“The Slate writer said she had complained last Friday and then saw different search results before YouTube responded to her on Monday,” wrote the employee. “And lo and behold, the [changelog] was submitted on Friday, December 14 at 3:17 PM.”

The manually downranked items included several videos from Dr. Antony Levatino, a former abortion doctor who is now a pro-life activist. Another video in the top ten featured a woman’s personal story of being pressured to have an abortion, while another featured pro-life conservative Ben Shapiro. The Slate journalist who complained to Google reported that these videos previously featured in the top ten, describing them in her story as “dangerous misinformation.”

Since the Slate journalist’s inquiry and Google’s subsequent intervention, the top search results now feature pro-abortion content from left-wing sources like BuzzFeed, Vice, CNN, and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. In her report, the Slate journalist acknowledged that the search results changed shortly after she contacted Google.

The manual adjustment of search results by a Google-owned platform contradicts a key claim made under oath by Google CEO Sundar Pichai in his congressional testimony earlier this month: that his company does not “manually intervene on any search result.”

A Google employee in the discussion thread drew attention to Pichai’s claim, noting that it “seems like we are pretty eager to cater our search results to the social and political agenda of left-wing journalists.”

One of the posts in the discussion also noted that the blacklist had previously been edited to include the search term “Maxine Waters” after a single Google employee complained the top YouTube search result for Maxine Waters was “very low quality.”

Google’s alleged intervention on behalf of a Democratic congresswoman would be further evidence of the tech giant using its resources to prop up the left. Breitbart News previously reported on leaked emails revealing the company targeted pro-Democrat demographics in its get-out-the-vote efforts in 2016.

According to the source, a software engineer in the thread also noted that “a bunch of terms related to the abortion referendum in Ireland” had been added to the blacklist – another change with potentially dramatic consequences on the national policies of a western democracy.

youtube_controversial_query_blacklist

At least one post in the discussion thread revealed the existence of a file called “youtube_controversial_query_blacklist,” which contains a list of YouTube search terms that Google manually curates. In addition to the terms “abortion,” “abortions,” “Maxine Waters,” and search terms related to the Irish abortion referendum, a Google software engineer noted that the blacklist includes search terms related to terrorist attacks. (the posts specifically mentions that the “Strasbourg terrorist attack” as being on the list).

“If you look at the other entries recently added to the youtube_controversial_query_blacklist(e.g., entries related to the Strasbourg terrorist attack), the addition of abortion seems…out-of-place,” wrote the software engineer, according to the source.

After learning of the existence of the blacklist, Breitbart News obtained a partial screenshot of the full blacklist file from a source within Google. It reveals that the blacklist includes search terms related to both mass shootings and the progressive anti-second amendment activist David Hogg.

This suggests Google has followed the lead of Democrat politicians, who have repeatedly pushed tech companies to censor content related to the Parkland school shooting and the Parkland anti-gun activists. It’s part of a popular new line of thought in the political-media establishment, which views the public as too stupid to question conspiracy theories for themselves.

Here is the partial blacklist leaked to Breitbart:

2117 plane crash Russian

2118 plane crash

2119 an-148

2120 florida shooting conspiracy

2121 florida shooting crisis actors

2122 florida conspiracy

2123 florida false flag shooting

2124 florida false flag

2125 fake florida school shooting

2126 david hogg hoax

2127 david hogg fake

2128 david hogg crisis actor

2129 david hogg forgets lines

2130 david hogg forgets his lines

2131 david hogg cant remember his lines

2132 david hogg actor

2133 david hogg cant remember

2134 david hogg conspiracy

2135 david hogg exposed

2136 david hogg lines

2137 david hogg rehearsing

2120 florida shooting conspiracy

The full internal filepath of the blacklist, according to another source, is:

//depot/google3/googledata/superroot/youtube/youtube_controversial_query_blacklist

Contradictions

Responding to a request for comment, a YouTube spokeswoman said the company wants to promote “authoritative” sources in its search results, but maintained that YouTube is a “platform for free speech” that “allow[s]” both pro-life and pro-abortion content.

YouTube’s full comment:

YouTube is a platform for free speech where anyone can choose to post videos, as long as they follow our Community Guidelines, which prohibit things like inciting violence and pornography. We apply these policies impartially and we allow both pro-life and pro-choice opinions. Over the last year we’ve described how we are working to better surface news sources across our site for news-related searches and topical information. We’ve improved our search and discovery algorithms, built new features that clearly label and prominently surface news sources on our homepage and search pages, and introduced information panels to help give users more authoritative sources where they can fact check information for themselves.

In the case of the “abortion” search results, YouTube’s intervention to insert “authoritative” content resulted in the downranking of pro-life videos and the elevation of pro-abortion ones.

A Google spokesperson took a tougher line than its YouTube subsidiary, stating that “Google has never manipulated or modified the search results or content in any of its products to promote a particular political ideology.”

However, in the leaked discussion thread, a member of Google’s “trust & safety” team, Daniel Aaronson, admitted that the company maintains “huge teams” that work to adjust search results for subjects that are “prone to hyperbolic content, misleading information, and offensive content” – all subjective terms that are frequently used to suppress right-leaning sources.

He also admitted that the interventions weren’t confined to YouTube – they included search results delivered via Google Assistant, Google Home, and in rare cases Google ’s organic search results.

In the thread, Aaronson attempted to explain how search blacklisting worked. He claimed that highly specific searches would generate non-blacklisted results, even controversial ones. But the inclusion of highly specific terms in the YouTube blacklist, like “David Hogg cant remember his lines” – the name of an actual viral video – seems to contradict this.

Aaronson’s full post is copied below:

I work in Trust and Safety and while I have no particular input as to exactly what’s happening for YT I can try to explain why you’d have this kind of list and why people are finding lists like these on Code Search.

When dealing with abuse/controversial content on various mediums you have several levers to deal with problems. Two prominent levers are “Proactive” and “Reactive”:

  • Proactive: Usually refers to some type of algorithm/scalable solution to a general problem
    • E.g.: We don’t allow straight up porn on YouTube so we create a classifier that detects porn and automatically remove or flag for review the videos the porn classifier is most certain of
  • Reactive: Usually refers to a manual fix to something that has been brought to our attention that our proactive solutions don’t/didn’t work on and something that is clearly in the realm of bad enough to warrant a quick targeted solution (determined by pages and pages of policies worked on over many years and many teams to be fair and cover necessary scope)
    • E,g.: A website that used to be a good blog had it’s domain expire and was purchased/repurposed to spam Search results with autogenerated pages full of gibberish text, scraped images, and links to boost traffic to other spammy sites. It is manually actioned for violating policy

These Organic Search policies and the consequences to violating them are public

Manually reacting to things is not very scalable, and is not an ideal solution to most problems, so the proactive lever is really the one we all like to lean on. Ideally, our classifiers/algorithm are good at providing useful and rich results to our users while ignoring things at are not useful or not relevant. But we all know, this isn’t exactly the case all the time (especially on YouTube).

From a user perspective, there are subjects that are prone to hyperbolic content, misleading information, and offensive content. Now, these words are highly subjective and no one denies that. But we can all agree generally, lines exist in many cultures about what is clearly okay vs. what is not okay. E.g. a video of a puppy playing with a toy is probably okay in almost every culture or context, even if it’s not relevant to the query. But a video of someone committing suicide and begging others to follow in his/her footsteps is probably on the other side of the line for many folks.

While my second example is technically relevant to the generic query of “suicide”, that doesn’t mean that this is a very useful or good video to promote on the top of results for that query. So imagine a classifier that says, for any queries on a particular text file, let’s pull videos using signals that we historically understand to be strong indicators of quality (I won’t go into specifics here, but those signals do exist). We’re not manually curating these results, we’re just saying “hey, be extra careful with results for this query because many times really bad stuff can appear and lead to a bad experience for most users”. Ideally the proactive lever did this for us, but in extreme cases where we need to act quickly on something that is so obviously not okay, the reactive/manual approach is sometimes necessary. And also keep in mind, that this is different for every product. The bar for changing classifiers or manual actions on span in organic search is extremely high. However, the bar for things we let our Google Assistant say out loud might be a lot lower. If I search for “Jews run the banks” – I’ll likely find anti-semitic stuff in organic search. As a Jew, I might find some of these results offensive, but they are there for people to research and view, and I understand that this is not a reflection of Google feels about this issue. But if I ask Google assistant “Why do Jews run the banks” we wouldn’t be similarly accepting if it repeated and promoted conspiracy theories that likely pop up in organic search in her smoothing voice.

Whether we agree or not, user perception of our responses, results, and answers of different products and mediums can change. And I think many people are used to the fact that organic search is a place where content should be accessible no matter how offensive it might be, however, the expectation is very different on a Google Home, a Knowledge Panel, or even YouTube.

These lines are very difficult and can be very blurry, we are all well aware of this. So we’ve got huge teams that stay cognizant of these facts when we’re crafting policies considering classifier changes, or reacting with manual actions – these decisions are not made in a vacuum, but admittedly are also not made in a highly public forum like TGIF or IndustryInfo (as you can imagine, decisions/agreement would be hard to get in such a wide list – image if all your CL’s were reviewed by every engineer across Google all the time). I hope that answers some questions and gives a better layer of transparency without going into details about our “Pepsi formula”.

Best,

Daniel

The fact that Google manually curates politically contentious search results fits in with a wider pattern of political activity on the part of the tech giant.

In 2018, Breitbart News exclusively published a leaked video from the company that showed senior management in dismay at Trump’s election victory, and pledging to use the company’s power to make his populist movement a “hiccup” in history.

Breitbart also leaked “The Good Censor,” an internal research document from Google that admits the tech giant is engaged in the censorship of its own products, partly in response to political events.

Another leak revealed that employees within the company, including Google’s current director of Trust and Safety, tried to kick Breitbart News off Google’s market-dominating online ad platforms.

Yet another showed Google engaged in targeted turnout operations aimed to boost voter participation in pro-Democrat demographics in “key states” ahead of the 2016 election. The effort was dubbed a “silent donation” by a top Google employee.

Evidence for Google’s partisan activities is now overwhelming. President Trump has previously warned Google, as well as other Silicon Valley giants, not to engage in censorship or partisan activities. Google continues to defy him.

Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News. You can follow him on TwitterGab.ai and add him on Facebook. Email tips and suggestions to [email protected].

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