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Sudan, Iran, the Obama Administration, and Khartoum's Political Vision

More about what we learn from the leaked minutes of the August 31 meeting bringing together Khartoum's most senior military and security officials

By Eric Reeves

October 15, 2014 (SSNA) -- The document containing minutes of the 31 August 2014 meeting of the most senior military and security officials of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NCP) ("Minutes of the Military and Security Committee Meeting held in the National Defense College" [Khartoum]) has been assessed at considerable length over the past three weeks. The overwhelming consensus is that the document is authentic and reveals in powerful detail how determined these ruthless men are to hold onto power in Sudan at all costs. I have seen to date no credible account of how such a document could have been fabricated and passed through the channels it has without being detected as a hoax. As one astute and longtime student of Sudan observed to me, "It is hard to believe such a record was made...but even harder to imagine anyone forging it."

Africa Confidential began its recent brief overview of the issue by observing:

Most of the Sudanese activists and officials (serving or former) that we have contacted believe the leaked reports of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) meeting on 31 August are an authentic account. Indeed, one former official has confirmed the NISS meeting took place and a serving official said the documents were genuine.

And in a different section of the issue:

The first question is whether the minutes are authentic (see Khartoum in fact and fiction). Most of the Sudanese politicians, and serving and former officials that Africa Confidential has spoken to reckon they are and that there have been serious security breaches in Khartoum. (10 October 2014, Vol 55 No 20)

For a more extensive survey of opinion about the authenticity of the document, see this compendium. Absent compelling evidence that the document was forged, there is simply too much within it that demands recognition as the actual thinking and decision-making of the men who now constitute what is essentially a junta in Khartoum, with merely the trappings of civilian rule.

A "Strategic Relationship" with Iran

Moreover, subsequent events have in some cases unfolded as if scripted by the decisions and recommendations recorded at this meeting. For example, President Omar al-Bashir's trip to Saudi Arabia had less to do with the hajj than with the need to reassure Saudi leaders about the nature of Khartoum's relationship with Tehran. In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat (11 October 2014) al-Bashir declares that, despite recent tensions in the relationship between Khartoum and Riyadh, this has had nothing to do with Khartoum's relationship with Tehran, the great regional menace in Saudi eyes:

"There are no strategic ties between [Sudan] and Iran. Our ties with Iran are very normal."

Desperate for Saudi economic and financial assistance (noted frequently in the leaked document), and given also the repeated references in the leaked document to deceiving the Saudis about the nature of the relationship with Tehran, al-Bashir had no choice but to publicly disavow any strategic relationship with Iran, however unpersuasively.

In fact, however, in a dozen places in the minutes these most senior security, political, and military officials declare just the opposite:

  • "In the open let us maintain good relations with the Gulf States, but strategically with Iran and to be managed secretly by the Military Intelligence and the security organs."

"In my personal view our relation with Iran is a strategic one in the areas of defense and security."

"...we can improve our relations with the Gulf States [and Saudi Arabia] without affecting our strategic alliance with Iran. (Mustafa Osman Ismail, Political Secretary of the National Congress Party)

[Because a much-improved translation into English of the Arabic will soon be available, I have been more liberal in editorial clarification of the available English translation where there are clearly problems with word choices, idiom, syntax, punctuation, and other grammatical matters. In two places, because of the opacity of the formulation, I have attempted a reconstruction of what seems to be intended; they are not of central importance—ER]

  • "My comment is on our relation with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates on one side and Iran on the other side.... Our relation with Iran is strategic." (Lt.-General Hashim Abdalla Mohammed, Chief of Joint General Staff)
  • "Our relation with Iran is strategic." (Lt.-General Yahya Mohammed Kher, State Minister of Defense)
  • "Our relation with Iran is beneficial to us, because Iran is our biggest ally in the region, in terms of the cooperation in the areas of intelligence and military industrial production. This is due to our web-like relations with all the Islamic Movements world-wide. The importance of this relation comes from the fact that we constitute [a connection?] for Iran to all the Islamic groups." (Lt.-General Siddiig Aamir, Director of Military Intelligence and Security) (I will return in a subsequent analysis to the claim that Khartoum has "... web-like relations with all the Islamic Movements world-wide."—ER]
  • "So let us separate between the two issues, the strategic relation [with Iran] and the Shite Cultural Centers." [Recently shut down as the regime faced various domestic pressures; the idea of a "separation" of the religious and the strategic is a sentiment shared by several officials at the meeting; Iran is overwhelmingly Shiite and Sudan is overwhelmingly Sunni—ER] (First Lt.-General Mohammed Atta, Director General of the National Intelligence and Security Services)
  • "Whatever the case, our relation with Iran is a red line: without the support of Iran, the Ingaz ["National Salvation Revolution," the name given to the coup of June 1989] would have been defeated." (First Lt.-General Hashim Abdalla Mohammed, Chief of Joint General Staff)

Most emphatic is Defense Minister First Lt.-General Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein:"

I start with our relation with Iran and say it is strategic and everlasting. We cannot compromise or lose it. All the advancement in our military industry is from Iran. They opened the doors of their stores of weapons for us, at a time the Arabs stood against us. The Iranian support came at a time we were fighting a rebellion that spread in all the directions including the National Democratic Alliance. The Iranians provided us with experts and they trained our Military Intelligence and security cadres. Also they trained us in weapons production and transferred to us modern technology in military production."

Finally, and most consequentially, First Lt.-General and Vice President Bakri Hassan Saleh declared decisively:

  • "Our relation with Iran is strategic one and unchangeable. [They] who want to assist us can do that without conditions. Once in Saudi Arabia Abdal-Hafiz Ibrahim [Khartoum's ambassador to Saudi Arabia—ER] [came to me and said] that the Kingdom's foreign minister wanted to support [us], [but] the problem is our relation with Iran. That [the Saudi] leadership will not accept.... I realized that [Abdal-Hafiz Ibrahim] [had been] infiltrated [by Saudi security agents]. I told Mohammed Atta to put him under surveillance."

Al-Bashir's claim that Khartoum does not have a strategic relationship with Iran is a feeble effort at damage control following the leaking of a document that reveals all too clearly that the relationship is indeed "strategic." Ironically, al-Bashir indirectly confirms the leak with his belabored insistence:

  • "Relations would not have reached this stage were it not for false information being leaked about the situation in Sudan and the country’s foreign ties, particularly with Iran. This information was exaggerated,” Bashir said. “All of the information that reached the Saudi leadership within this context was false, fabricated, and exaggerated." (Asharq al-Awsat [Medina, Saudi Arabia], 11 October 2014)

No reading of the minutes as a whole can lead to any conclusion but that Iran is critical to Khartoum's view of itself in the region and to the continuing militarization of the Sudanese economy. Tehran's role in supporting international Islamist movements and terrorist organizations is intimated or discussed explicitly at several junctures in the minutes; this should be seen in the context of the well-established use of Sudan by Iran to funnel weapons to Hamas in Gaza. "Wiki-leaked" State Department cables show clearly that the U.S. has long been aware of this partnership.

At the same time, the need to convince Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States that the relationship is something else comes up again and again in the minutes: these countries must be deceived about the depth of the strategic relationship (something made a good deal more difficult my virtue of these leaked minutes) in order to preserve Sudan's standing in the Sunni world and to gain access to Saudi wealth:

  • "We need to strike a balance in the relation between Gulf States and Iran. Our diplomacy must work here. In the open let us maintain good relations with the Gulf States, but strategically with Iran and to be managed secretly by the Military Intelligence and security organs."

"Let us win the hearts and minds of the Gulf States and work closely with them also in order to read their minds and plans. We can find out whether they are intending to support us or just conspiring to spoil our relation with Iran and expose our back to the enemy."

"But Iran may object to the idea that we improve our relation with the Gulf States, meanwhile our economy relies very much on the Saudi Kingdom in terms of investments and expatriates money transfers. Saudis are scared from the Iranian military presence in Sudan and may not allow their banks to resume transactions with Sudan banks in terms of letters of credits for export/import traders plus expatriate transfers to their relatives. (Mustafa Osman Ismail, Political Secretary of the National Congress Party) [This is one of the very few realistic comments about the state of the Sudanese economy; for the realities ignored, see my 17 September 2014 overview—ER]

  • Mustafa Osman Ismail, Secretary General of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NCP)
  • " ... you know that our relation with Iran is part and parcel of our relation with the Muslim Brotherhood International Islamic Organization. Accordingly, we must consult with Iran and our Islamist group before taking any step in this regard [re-positioning Khartoum diplomatically vis-à-vis Saudi Arabic—ER]. This is, because the Kingdom [Saudi Arabia] cannot be trusted, despite their knowledge that we are in a position to threaten their rule." (Lt.-General Abdal-Gadir Mohammed Zeen, National Service Coordinator)
  • "My comment is on our relation with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates on one side and Iran on the other side. We are capable and also know how to mislead the Gulf States by taking open, declared steps and procedures towards improving diplomatic relations with them, while knowing that they are backed by the Americans and Israel." (Lt.-General Siddiig Aamir, Director of Military Intelligence and Security)
  • "I agree with what brother Mustafa said, that our military and security relations with Iran should not contradict our brotherly and diplomatic relation with Saudi and Emirates countries, especially at this moment, when axis policies, polarization and alliances has surfaced at the level of the region. Currently, there are three million Sudanese employees working in the Gulf States and especially in the Saudi Kingdom. (Lt.-General Salah Al-Tayib, Commissioner of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration)
  • "The secret of the strength of the Ingaz (NCP) government lies in the smooth management of the alliance with Shite’ Iran on one side and the alliance with the Sunni Islamic groups on the other side. Any negligence or failure to maintain this fragile relation between the Sunni and Shite’, will be disastrous and we shall be the biggest losers." (Lt.-General Siddiig Aamir, Director of Military Intelligence and Security)
  • "We must explain to Iranian Military Intelligence the threats we expect and they should understand, so that we keep the relation with both parties [Iran on the one hand, Saudi Arabia and he Gulf States on the other—ER]. At the same time we tell the Saudis that we are taking your side." (Lt.-General Siddiig Aamir, Director of Military Intelligence and Security)

The Obama Administration's Dissimulation

Unlike al-Bashir, some come to dissimulate by habit or by virtue of position in office. My October 9 inquiry about the authenticity of the document at issue, sent to the Director of the Office of the U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Lucy Tamlyn, yielded only an ambiguous grammatical solecism in response: "The U.S. government would not speculate on the authenticity of the document." This artful or instinctual misuse of the auxiliary modal verb "would" leaves a reader unsure what is meant: that "The U.S. government will not speculate on the authenticity of the document"? or that "The U.S. government does not speculate on the authenticity of [documents like this one]"? or that "The U.S. government would not be speculat[ing] on the authenticity of the document [in some indeterminate future]"?

But of course all such parsings yield only nonsense: the U.S. government, whatever it chooses to say or not say publicly, has certainly made an intensive, thorough and comprehensive investigation of the document, and has just as certainly reached a "non-speculative" conclusion about its authenticity. The issues addressed in the document are far too important for the Obama administration to tolerate any sort of agnosticism. And given the consensus that I have watched build since initial publication of substantial elements of the document (24 September 2014), it is exceedingly difficult to believe that the U.S has concluded that the document has been fabricated. We will be told publicly of this decision, however, only if the administration finds if useful to do so.

But if this is so, there are any number of moments in the minutes that must be thoroughly discomfiting to U.S. policy-makers, including statements revealing very strong opposition to Special Envoy Donald Booth's making a trip to Khartoum anytime soon. Moreover, given the views revealed in the minutes, even if such a trip were to occur, its meaning would lie only in the fact that it occurred, generating useful "optics" for the regime as it pushes hard towards its overarching political goal: holding national elections in April 2015 so as to give—in the words of Mustafa Osman Ismail, Political Secretary of the NCP—this ruthless and tyrannical regime "another five years of legitimacy." But again, there is not a shred of evidence in the documented minutes that those who now wield real power in Khartoum are inclined to see a visit by the American special envoy occur. First Lt.-General Bakri Hassan Saleh, Vice President and the man most likely to have greatest power in a regime following the death, medical incapacitation, or political sidelining of al-Bashir (there are many who oppose his re-nomination for President at the NCP convention later this month), declares:

  • "The greatest security and social threat is coming from South Sudan ([and the foreign presence of] Uganda, America, France and Israel), the Armed Movements, South Sudanese, and the two areas [South Kordofan and Blue Nile] where people have been displaced and [become] refugees due to war (diseases, social crimes, children missing education, and some converted to Christianity)." [This passage has been poorly translated and I have with the bracketed phrasing attempted to make sense of what appears to be the intended meaning; in general I have only made minor editorial clarifications, mechanical emendations, and idiomatic renderings of the English translation of the Arabic text; I have no reading Arabic skills—ER]

America is viewed as part of the "greatest security and social threat [to Khartoum]." Thus it is hardly surprising that Bakri goes on to declare:

  • "America deceived us in regards to the separation of the South. They did not lift our name from the list of the States sponsoring terrorism or relieve our debts. So the Envoy should not come."

Ironically, Bakri had just declared that "nobody is paying us and we are indebted to nobody." In fact, Sudan has massive external debt now exceeding US$46 billion—and while the U.S. is not a major creditor, it is the most powerful member of the Paris Club that would have to reach consensus on debt relief for Sudan, something extremely unlikely even with U.S. support. But the feeling of having been deceived by the U.S. is evidently real and clearly has a bearing on whether Special Envoy Booth will make a trip to Khartoum anytime soon.

First Lt.-General Abdel-Rahim Mohammed Hussein, Minister of Defense, was also adamant about such a visit:

  • "Look at the statement [Paris Declaration] of the [Sudan Revolutionary Front] rebels which they want to execute with the help of France and the American Envoy. [The Paris Declaration of principles was also signed by Sadiq el-Mahdi, representing the National Umma Party; the minutes reveal this to be a particular political concern of the participants—ER]
  • "This is meddling in our internal affairs. Accordingly the American envoy should not be permitted to enter Sudan."

Publicly these sentiments emerge with a rather different tone, even suggesting the possibility of a meeting that senior officials have explicitly ruled out in private:

Sudanese foreign ministry undersecretary, Abdallah Azrak, told al-Youm Altali newspaper that Khartoum and Washington needed to repair the broken trust, stressing that his government no longer believes what American officials say. "We had received multiple pledges on many occasions, but the USA has not fulfilled its promises," he said. He went further to welcome [sic] Booth’s visit to Sudan, stressing, "We need assurances of the sincerity of American statements, especially they did not fulfill previous promises." (Sudan Tribune, 11 October 2011)

The irony of Khartoum complaining about "unfulfilled promises" is of course simply grotesque: for the complaint comes from a regime that has never abided by any promise or agreement signed with any Sudanese party during its 25 years in power—not one, not ever. Implicit in Abdallah Azrak's statement is a claim that Khartoum abided by the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005), the primary demand of the U.S. under both the Bush and Obama administrations. But whether we look to the military seizure of Abyei (May 2011) that replaced the self-determination referendum guaranteed in the Abyei Protocol of the CPA; or to the military assaults on the people of South Kordofan and Blue Nile that took the place of the "popular consultations" guaranteed by the CPA; or to the refusal to negotiate a final delineation of the North/South border as stipulated by the CPA; or to the ground and aerial military assaults on sovereign South Sudanese territory, Khartoum is far, far from having kept the "promise" implicit in the signing of the CPA.

So while Special Envoy Donald Booth waits for a response to his recently reiterated offer to visit Khartoum, he apparently fails to see that the electoral strategy articulated on every page of the minutes of the August 31 meeting in Khartoum has no place for such a visit. The Sudan Tribune provides the public explanation coming from Khartoum:

In reaction to [Washington's efforts to secure humanitarian access to affected civilians in war-affected areas in South Kordofan and Blue Nile] Khartoum decided to not cooperate with the US special envoy who [has not visited] the Sudanese capital since December 2013. During [this] visit he was received only at the Parliament [i.e., not by any senior official—ER].

Azrak also rejected what Booth statements about the national dialogue process considering it as interference in Sudan’s internal affairs. “The government is not ready to receive lessons in this regard,” he said.

Booth welcomed the national dialogue process but urged the Sudanese government to take the necessary measures to create a conducive environment in the country and to reach a framework agreement with the opposition parties. “But to date, realisation of the promised National Dialogue remains uncertain. In the intervening months, details of the purported dialogue were few, and actions taken by the government appeared to run contrary to its stated intent,” he said. (Sudan Tribune, 11 October 2014)

Finally, it is important to bear in mind that the racist views of Defense Minister Hussein are not his alone, and work to define the regime's attitude toward Western nations:

  • "Whatever the case, the White People will never give you enough support or fight along with [you]. The greatest liars are the White People; they are concerned about their own interest only."

That Hussein himself has a gargantuan capacity for mendacity, and has shamelessly pursued self-enrichment, as have all the men whose views are recorded, make of this statement an utterly perverse irony.

Khartoum's Political Vision

Throughout the minutes, the "National Dialogue" (as it is called) is clearly nothing more than a political ploy, a means of giving merely the impression of pluralism and broad national involvement in discussing the governance of Sudan. A series of comments make clear the factitious nature of the "dialogue," which in fact is a monologue dominated by the threat of action by the security and military forces in the event of true popular demonstrations: "The national dialogue is to take place in Khartoum and under the chairmanship of President Bashir. No dialogue to take place abroad [with expatriate Sudanese]" (Mustafa Osman Ismail, Political Secretary of the National Congress Party).

The events of September 2013, in which hundreds of unarmed and largely peaceful demonstrators were killed by security forces operating under "shoot to kill orders," are constantly invoked in the minutes:

  • " ... this year we have already trained [teams] to protect the elections and assist the police to suppress any such activities that may be carried out by the rebellion or the supporters of the New Sudan Project." (Lt.-General Abdal-Gadir Mohammed Zeen, National Service Coordinator)
  • "Let us go and prepare a force to protect the elections. Secondly, if the peace talks are necessary let them take place after the elections, and the internal national dialogue can continue after we hold the elections. There must be strict control over the freedom of the press, political statements of the party leaders, and the national security should remain a red line.... Let us criminalize anybody who support the rebellion or criticize the regular armed forces." (First Lt.-General Hashim Osman Hisen, Director General of Police)
  • "First our preparation for the elections is going according to plan.... We want our security organs to inform us about the opinion of all political parties, loyal or detractors on the elections before time to enable us influence things earlier." (Ibrahim Ghandur, Deputy Chairman of the NCP)

And the key recommendation of Vice President Bakri Hassan Saleh is characteristically blunt:

  • "Preparation of the necessary force for the protection of the elections."

All this is by way ensuring the NCP's primary goal: that an election occurs without any delay in April 2015, a goal that is constantly reiterated:

  • "No way for postponement of the elections whatever the case." (Mustafa Osman Ismail, Political Secretary of the National Congress Party)
  • "The elections must take place on time. Holding the elections constitutes a psychological war against the armed movements and may frustrate them and lead to the end of the project of the New Sudan Project." (Lt. General Salah Al-Tayib, Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration Commissioner) [The "New Sudan Project" is governance in Sudan guided by the principle, most forcefully articulated by the late Southern leader John Garang, that neither race nor ethnicity nor religion should be the basis for citizenship in a truly multi-party, democratic Sudan. The terms is repeatedly invoked as the great enemy of the regime's political goals—ER]
  • "[We have teams ready] to protect the elections and assist the police to suppress any such activities that may be carried out by the rebellion or the supporters of the New Sudan Project." (Lt. General Abdal-Gadir Mohammed Zeen, National Service Coordinator)
  • "... if the peace talks are necessarylet them take place after the elections, and the internal national dialogue can continue after we hold the elections." (First Lt.-General Hashim Osman Hisen, Director General of Police) ["... if the peace talks are necessary": this may seem an extraordinary conditional statement, given the multiple wars ongoing in Sudan, but in fact is entirely consistent with the regime's determination to avoid all peace forums if possible: the wish is to determine events militarily, again a sentiment that echoes and re-echoes throughout the minutes—ER)

A summary by security chief Mohammed Atta captures the broader strategic sense of the regime;

  • "We said the national dialogue must be held inside the country, elections to take place on time, the decisive summer [military] campaign must continue. We should step-up the recruitment to increase the Rapid Response Forces" [i.e., re-constituted Janjaweed militia—ER]. (First Lt.-General Mohammed Atta, Director General of the National Intelligence and Security Services)

A more impressive and much more insightful summary, however, is offered by Osman Mirghani (Asharq Al-Awsat, 4 October 2014):

That Sudan’s Islamist regime is using trickery and prevarication is not strange for a group that has made deceit and pretense a key part of its political culture. But a recently-leaked document highlighting what happened during a meeting between military, political and security leaders in Khartoum in late August reveals how far the regime is willing to go in order to maintain its grip on power...

On the domestic level, the document [i.e., the minutes of the August 31 meeting of senior military and security officials] confirms what every wise observer already knows—that the regime is manipulating the opposition and employing talk about dialogue and reconciliation to gain time and fragment its political opponents. In fact, the regime desires to use talk about dialogue to legitimize the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for next year.


What then would be the purpose of a visit to Khartoum by U.S. Special Envoy Donald Booth? What could he expect to accomplish in pushing this now fully revealed regime toward a true democratic election? Booth's predecessor as Special Envoy, Princeton Lyman, remains notorious for having declared of U.S. Sudan policy:

"We do not want to see the ouster of the [Khartoum] regime, nor regime change. We want to see the regime carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures.” (3 December 2011 interview with Asharq Al-Awsat)

Special Envoy Booth has done far too little to move the Obama administration away from this utterly preposterous vision of political change in Sudan. Indeed, I am not aware that he has distanced U.S. policy at all from the truly bizarre notion that the current regime, as revealed by the men speaking in the minutes of this recent meeting, might preside over meaningful reform or commit in any way to "constitutional democratic measures."

[The next analysis will be a detailed accounting of the various political machinations, bribery efforts, deceptions, and security preparations detailed by various participants at the 31 August 2014 meeting. With elections upcoming in April 2015, these hardliners are determined that there will be at most the semblance of a democratic election—desirable for international "public relations"—even as they make fully clear that they intend to ensure the NCP candidate for president will win easily. Because their plans are so elaborate and well-developed, they are determined that the election will not be delayed for any reason whatsoever, a point made repeatedly and emphatically by all speaking about the elections.]

Eric Reeves' book-length study of greater Sudan (Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 - 2012;; review commentary at:

Khartoum Announces a Campaign to Starve the People of the Nuba Mountains

By Eric Reeves

October 7, 2014 (SSNA) -- On 22 September 2014 I received from a source within Sudan, whom I trust implicitly, a truly extraordinary, indeed explosive document, containing "Minutes of the Military and Security Committee Meeting held in the National Defense College [Khartoum]"; the meeting referred to took place on August 31, 2014; the date of the minutes for the document is September 1, 2014 (Sunday).

What makes the document so extraordinary—beyond the extreme danger individuals put themselves in to ensure I received a copy—is that it reveals the participation of the regime's most senior military and security officials, expressing themselves freely, and in the process disclosing numerous highly consequential policy decisions, internal and external. We learn also of the appalling cruelty and destructiveness of these decisions. Allowing for the very different historical contexts, it's as though we were reading minutes from the Wannsee Conference of 1942, in which the destruction of European Jewry was confirmed and extended throughout the German governing apparatus.

If the comparison seems too extreme, bear in mind that during the twenty-five years of rule by the current National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime, more than three million people have been killed in Darfur, South Sudan, as well as the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan, and Blue Nile State. Most have died not directly from violence but rather from the consequences of that violence, which has been consistently marked by a decided racial and ethnic inflection. Khartoum's view has always been that the African populations of greater Sudan (Sudan as well as the newly independent South Sudan) are lower forms of human life—worthy only of being abid. The Arabic word is translated literally as slave(s) but carries with it many of the connotations of the hateful English word "nigger." And slavery has in fact been a means of conducting war, as the distinguished South Sudanese academic Jok Madut Jok argues in his terrifying account, War and Slavery in Sudan (2001).

The rape and gang-rape of women and girls is also a weapon of war, particularly in Darfur where Khartoum's militia forces have sexually assaulted many tens of thousands; we will never have an adequate figure for how many—or how many eventually lost their lives or their will to live because of the savagery of gang-rape, especially of young girls. The rapes are typically the occasion for expressing a ghastly "Arab supremacism"; for what is striking about these assaults is that they have typically been accompanied by racial epithets, including abid, but also zurga (dirty or blue-black), and "Nuba"—a broadly derogatory for African people, growing out of the assumption that all the people of the Nuba Mountains are African.

Notably, it was the Nuba people who were subject to a campaign of near total ethnic destruction in the 1990s: assaulted militarily—with no distinction between combatants and civilians—they were also subject to a total humanitarian embargo: no international relief supplies or personnel were allowed in, even as people were starving.

Which brings us back to the present and the minutes of the August 31 meeting. Two military officials of the regime speak explicitly of accelerating a bombing campaign directed against the agricultural production of the Nuba people, a campaign that has been underway for more than three years.

Moreover, the international community has again acquiesced before Khartoum's total embargo on humanitarian relief to rebel-controlled areas. In the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan and in Blue Nile State to the east, perhaps 1.5 million people have been displaced and have acute humanitarian needs: food, primary medical care, and above all, an end to the aerial bombardment that has terrified people to the point that they can no longer work their fields. They live in caves and ravines; villages are relentlessly attacked on the ground, with foodstocks the primary target for destruction. Many thousands have died.

If this seems too indirect or abstract an account, not getting sufficiently at the vexed issue of "genocidal intent," then consider the words of two senior generals at the August 31 meeting (only two of those present did not have the most senior generals at the August 31 meeting (only two of those present did not have the most senior military rank). Lt. General Siddiig Aamir, Director of Military Intelligence and Security, was blunt:

"This year the Sudan People's Army (SPLA-N) managed to cultivate large areas in South Kordofan State. We must not allow them to harvest these crops. We should prevent them. Good harvest means supplies to the war effort. We must starve them, so that, commanders and civilians desert them and we recruit the deserters to use them in the war to defeat the rebels" (page 10 of English translation of minutes).

What "starving" people look like: photograph by the incomparable James Nachtwey, from an earlier Khartoum-engineered famine in South Sudan

"We must starve them."  He is speaking of hundreds of thousands of civilians, for of course this ruthless assessment neglects to point out that the vast majority of agricultural production is a civilian undertaking, and that it will be Nuba civilians--primarily children, women, and the elderly—who will suffer most from this destruction of food supplies, not the rebels.  Even more blunt are the words of Lt. General Imadadiin Adaw, Chief of Joint Operations: "We should attack them before the harvest and bombard their food stores and block them completely" (page 14).

People have fled their homes, their villages, their lands in the face of relentless aerial bombardment by Khartoum's forces; agricultural production in many areas has fallen precipitously over the past three years

More civilian destruction planned

The minutes of the meeting also make clear Khartoum's intention to supply strategically significant military supplies, equipment, and training to one side of the bloody civil war in South Sudan, ensuring that this enormously destructive conflict is protracted and that peace negotiations will falter as the newly equipped rebel group fights on against the government in Juba. It is a page out of Khartoum's standard genocidal playbook: "divide and conquer." Southerners killing Southerners still serves what these men consider to be in Sudan's (i.e., their) national interest, especially given the location of the very large oil reserves in the South's Upper Nile State, where fighting is increasingly intense.

There is much, much more in this terrifying document. Especially significant is Khartoum's relationship to militant Islam and its readiness to use Islamic terrorism as a strategic element of foreign policy: First Lt. Gen. Hashim Abdalla Mohammed, Chief of Joint General Staff, declares with confidence: "We can create them a problem with the Islamic radicals, but we are not going to use this card now" (page 17). But certainly the "card" is there to play.

The U.S. intelligence community assumes in its shady relationship with Khartoum that it is getting valuable regional information about terrorism; what this document reveals is that the regime is highly selective in what it provides, and exacts a shameful price from its partners in the U.S. intelligence community, namely betrayal of the rebel movements seeking to overthrow Khartoum's tyranny of 25 years. This is the only way to interpret what First Lt. General and Defense Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein bluntly declares: "We release only limited information to the Americans [and are guided by their specific requests], and the price is the armed movements file" (page 24). Some of those leading the "armed movements" are among the most honorable, principled, and determined Sudanese I know.

Yet another victim of Khartoum's bombing campaigns; thee have been tens of thousands

Anyone reading this document, whose authenticity has been established beyond reasonable doubt, will find some hard questions about Obama administration policies toward Khartoum. First and foremost, are we really prepared to accept the deliberate aerial destruction of the Nuba people? Aerial attacks on civilians have been a mainstay of Khartoum's war against peripheral and marginalized groups—in what is now South Sudan, in Darfur, in Blue Nile, and most conspicuously in the Nuba Mountains. Will anything be done to stop this explicitly declared campaign of "starvation"? Although well aware of its existence, the Obama administration has so far said not a word about the document announcing this campaign. The administration has been assisted by news media silence. How long will this silence persist? How many children must starve to death before the President, Western allies, and news organizations respond meaningfully?

That such a plea should be necessary...

Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than fifteen years. He is author of Compromising with Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012 (September 2012).

Aerial Attacks on Civilian Agriculture and Food Supplies: 'Starving' the Nuba" (Part Two of "Looking Directly into the Heart of Darkness)

By Eric Reeves

September 27, 2014 (SSNA) -- On 24 September 2014 I presented and offered preliminary analysis of a document I had received on 22 September 2014, from a source within Sudan whom I trust implicitly. It was an explosive document, containing the "Minutes of the Military and Security Committee Meeting held in the National Defense College [Khartoum]"; the meeting referred to took place on August 31, 2014; the date of the minutes for the document is September 1, 2014 (Sunday).

What makes the document so extraordinary is the participation of the regime's most senior military and security officials, expressing themselves freely, and in the process disclosing numerous highly consequential policy decisions, internal and external. I discussed at some length issues of authenticity, and concluded the evidence was simply overwhelming that this was an authentic document, recording the words of men of immense power speaking without restraint about their goals, their fears, their policies. Subsequently I have received a good deal of additional evidence of the authenticity of the document, with no meaningful or substantial challenge offered to my assertion of that authenticity.

The words I am reporting are indeed the words of the men who control power, especially military and security power in Sudan, and have overseen 25 years of savage, self-enriching tyranny. The 30 pages of minutes are dense with revelations—some small, some large, some not so much revelations as shocking confirmation of what has been evident but never publicly confirmed by the National Congress Party/National Islamic Front regime.

In attendance were fourteen of the very most powerful men in the increasingly militarized regime (only two were not senior military officers). These included First Lt. General and Vice President Bakri Hassan Saleh, who will become the most powerful man within the regime if President (and Field Marshal) Omar al-Bashir dies from his health problems, or is medically unable to run again for president in the elections of 2015.

The destruction of agricultural production and food supplies in South Kordofan and Blue Nile

In the present brief analysis I will concentrate on the military tactics of the Sudan Armed Forces in South Kordofan, focusing particularly on the effort to destroy agricultural production in this region and thus starve people into submission (a similar campaign is underway in rebel-controlled areas of Blue Nile State to the east). That this is the military goal is made quite clear at several points in the minutes. Indeed, "starve" is a word explicitly used to describe the goal of this ongoing campaign, now of more than three years:

"This year the Sudan People’s Army (SPLA-N) managed to cultivate large areas in South Kordofan State. We must not allow them to harvest these crops. We should prevent them. Good harvest means supplies to the war effort. We must starve them, so that, commanders and civilians desert them and we recruit the deserters to use them in the war to defeat the rebels," Lt. General Siddiig Aamir, Director of M.I. [Military Intelligence] and Security (page 10).

This savage, ruthless assessment neglects to point out that the vast majority of agricultural production is a civilian undertaking, and that it will be civilians—primarily children, women, and the elderly—who will suffer most from this destruction of food supplies.

Declaring that negotiations with the rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile are a "waste of time," a senior general, Chief of Joint Operations, indicates that the military option is the only one to be considered:

"We should attack them before the harvest and bombard their food stores and block them completely," Lt. General Imadadiin Adaw, Chief of Joint Operations (page 14).

Other moments and comments in the minutes comport fully with this assessment.

[For my comments on use of the English translation of the Arabic original, see ¶ 5 of my previous analysis, 24 September 2014; see also several additional pages of the Arabic original here in .JPG format; previous pages of the text may be found here)]

Let us be very clear about what is being said here: the goal of aerial bombing attacks is to destroy the ability of people in rebel-controlled areas of the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile to harvest a bountiful sorghum crop, a harvest that should continue into December. There is of course no conceivable way in which only the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-N) can be denied the food harvested; the widespread destruction will work to deny all the people of the Nuba Mountains food.

The Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNet) has given us a dramatically clear picture of what will follow from Khartoum's assault on food in the Nuba: Chart 1 of "FEWSNet Projected food security outcomes, July to September 2014" indicates that most of the people in of the Nuba Mountains (as well as people in other parts of South Kordofan) fall within "food insecurity" Category 4, "Emergency"; this is one step short of the final Category (5): "Catastrophe/Famine." While the FEWSNet predictions suggest that the sorghum crop, if harvested, could bring most people down to Category 3 ("Crisis"), it is precisely this crop that has been targeted. The effect will be to push people into Category 5 in large numbers.

Watching Catastrophe Unfold

A great many have already perished, although we can't know how many: Khartoum refuses all humanitarian access to rebel-held areas, including assessment missions. There have been, nonetheless, many surreptitious hit-and-run assessments, but not the kind of sustained assessments of the full range of humanitarian indicators that should be measured. In early 2012, the feckless African Union belatedly submitted a proposal for humanitarian access. The SPLM-N leadership immediately accepted the conditions proposed by the AU mediators; Khartoum refused. And although the regime has at various times made disingenuous noises about allowing humanitarian access, the pressure from the African Union has entirely dissipated and Khartoum is predictably and resolutely obdurate in continuing the humanitarian embargo. This denial of relief aid to acutely distressed civilians is reminiscent of the humanitarian embargo that accompanied the genocidal military campaign of the 1990s, a campaign designed to exterminate the Nuba people. It also meets the international legal standard for "crimes against humanity." The campaign of the 1990s came perilously close to success.

And now again, there is a complete humanitarian embargo on a large part of South Kordofan State and a relentless aerial campaign to destroy agricultural production and food availability. This campaign has forced hundreds of thousands to flee and brought many hundreds of thousand more to the brink of starvation—Khartoum's resumed ambition. Many tens of thousands have fled to Unity State in South Sudan, most to the Yida refugee camp that has, in turn, been bombed by Khartoum's aircraft. Ground attacks also focused on villages with no military presence, on food supplies, and the destruction of homes, markets, churches, mosques, and all that might assist in agricultural production. Hospitals have been repeatedly, deliberately targeted—by advanced military jet aircraft with full knowledge of their targets.

The most common weapon in this campaign is the Antonov "bomber," a Russian-built cargo plane retrofitted to permit the highly imprecise dropping of shrapnel-loaded barrel bombs on civilian targets, including villages and fields. The effect has been to bring people to such a state of fear that they cannot work their lands, but rather flee villages for caves and ravines (see photographs here). At this critical moment in the agricultural cycle, Khartoum's campaign of aerial destruction and terror has been ordered to re-commence, precisely because there has been a relatively successful sorghum crop (sorghum is the food staple of most people in both South Kordofan and Blue Nile states).

Crimes Against Humanity

This campaign of deliberately denying food to civilians for more than three years violates international human rights and humanitarian law on numerous counts. Moreover, the international community has known full well that these crimes are occurring, but refuses to confront the Khartoum regime over its campaign of ethnically-targeted civilian destruction. The world has been provided with numerous first-hand accounts over the past three years—by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Enough Project, as well as many intrepid journalists (a short bibliography appears below, followed by excerpts from several reports). But no action has been taken, no threats have been made, even as the repeated, systematic attacks on civilian food supplies, in aggregate, clearly constitute crimes against humanity as specified in the Rome Statute that serves as the basis for the International Criminal Court.

[ See pp. 19 – 20 of "'They Bombed Everything that Moved': Aerial Military Attacks on Civilians and Humanitarians in Sudan, 1999 – 2013" | |


"On the Obstruction of Humanitarian Aid," African Studies Review, Volume 54, Number 3 (December 2011) pp. 165 - 74 | ]

But attention has drifted from the Nuba and Blue Nile, as it had previously drifted from ongoing genocide in Darfur. Unless Khartoum's (now publicly) avowed commitment to "starve" the people of the Nuba is met with swift and forceful international condemnation and pressure, we may be sure that people, in great numbers, will in fact die. 

What we have known about the assault on the people of South Kordofan: A brief bibliography

Further reports, including key excerpts:

  • The Enough Project, "Rapid Food Security And Nutrition Assessment: South Kordofan," 18 October 2012


Experts in health assessments in humanitarian crises at The John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health vetted the assessment and found its research and methodology to be sound and its findings to be credible. The assessment was comprised of Mid-Upper Arm Circumference, or MUAC, screenings that were conducted on children 6-59 months old and standard food security questionnaires that were administered to heads of households.

The assessment is significant because it is the first international, third-party, on-the-ground assessment of food security and nutrition in South Kordofan since June 2011, when the government of Sudan banned all international humanitarian aid organizations from operating in the state. No similar assessment has been carried out in Blue Nile state; however, the condition of refugees from Blue Nile indicates that the food security situation in that state may be comparable to that in South Kordofan today.

The findings verify suspicions held by the international community for more than a year: that the government of Sudan’s violent campaign against civilian populations in South Kordofan state and its intentional denial of international humanitarian aid to areas controlled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, have resulted in severe malnutrition and dire food security outlooks.

  • UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, "South Sudan: Aid organizations prepare for new refugee influx from Sudan," 3 October, 2012:


Humanitarian organizations have reported that up to 40,000 refugees affected by conflict and food shortages in Sudan could arrive in South Sudan by the end of the year, after the heavy rains and flooding subside.

Since the conflict broke out in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile regions in 2011, over 170,000 refugees have fled to South Sudan’s Unity and Upper Nile States in search of safety. At the height of the crisis in May 2012, up to 32,000 people crossed into the Upper Nile’s Maban County within just a few days. Many arrived malnourished and exhausted, having walked for weeks without food or clean water. Heavy rainfall and flooding in August led to a decrease in the number of refugees crossing into South Sudan, as most border areas became impassable. But aid workers expect the influx of refugees to increase when the rains subside in November.

“The crisis is certainly not over. We anticipate that up to 350,000 Sudanese will be hosted in South Sudan by the end of 2013,” said OCHA’s Operations Director, John Ging, who visited refugee camps in South Sudan last month.

  • The Sudan Consortium: African and International Civil Society Action for Sudan, Human Rights Update (June 2014), "Three-year anniversary of outbreak of conflict sees highest number of attacks directed against the civilian population of Southern Kordofan.


The Government of Sudan’s (GoS) military offensive against opposition forces of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in Southern Kordofan reached a new level of intensity during June, provoking increased concern over the fate of civilians in those areas.

Between 1 and 22 June [2014], monitors on the ground recorded a total of 1,062 bombs and 1,229 artillery/rocket shells landing on or near civilian settlements in Southern Kordofan during the course of 82 separate attacks. This represents the highest number of attacks directed against the civilian population in Southern Kordofan since the conflict began in 2011.

Additionally, on 16 June, Sudanese government aircraft bombed a hospital run by the international organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). This follows a similar attack on the Mother of Mercy Hospital in South Kordofan at the beginning of May, an attack which was widely condemned by the international community. These repeated attacks on clearly marked medical facilities indicate that, at the very least, the Sudanese government is failing to take all feasible precautions to ensure that its attacks do not violate the protected status of these facilities under international humanitarian law. A more straightforward interpretation of the observed facts on the ground is that the hospitals are being deliberately targeted.

  • Arry Organization, "Three Years of War in Nuba Mountains: Another failure of the International Community," June 5, 2014:


After three years of war in Nuba Mountains, the indiscriminate bombardment and the massive human rights violation continue to escalate. During the last five weeks, the Janjaweed (Rapid Respond Forces as the government calls them), were deployed in large numbers to several areas in Nuba Mountains. The government media reported on April 26, 2014, that the Janjaweed militias were legal troops, affiliated with the National Security forces; and their mission in Nuba Mountains was to end the insurgency in the region during this summer.

Few days after the militia arrived in Southern Kordofan, they engaged in fighting in Daloka with the SPLM/N and lost one of their important leaders. In response to the Janjaweed defeat, the Sudanese government bombed Kauda for three days in a row with over 54 bombs from May 27 to May 30, 2014. The indiscriminate bombardment destroyed civilian houses, orphans school and humanitarian NGO offices. More importantly, the civilians in Kauda reported many unexploded bombs, which endanger the lives of children and farmers in the area.

According to news reports and local resources, the Sudanese intelligence forces in Kadugli, executed 30 local merchants on May 28, 2014. The merchants were arrested in different periods in the last few months; as they were accused of smuggling food supplies to the SLM/N controlled areas. According to the resources; another 24 were executed the same day in Khor Alfan near the military base in Kadugli. The second groups identity was not confirmed, but some of them might be civilians accused of supporting the SPLM/N.

The reports from inside Southern Kordofan continue to be more difficult to get out, because of the increased security restriction on movement and the communication censorship. The humanitarian situation in the region continues to deteriorate, but no solutions appear in the horizon.

  • Eric Reeves, "An interview with Dr. Tom Catena concerning the Nuba Mountains, and a humanitarian update on the region," 9 March 2013


The sorghum harvest this year—the staple crop of the region—was very poor, according to Dr. Catena. People in large numbers are on the verge of joining more than 200,000 refugees who have already fled to South Sudan and Ethiopia. Many spot nutritional surveys reveal Global Acute Malnutrition above the emergency threshold; the most recent of these found a 30 percent Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rate among children under five; this is double the international threshold for a humanitarian emergency. Moreover, a frightening percentage of children under five are experiencing Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), a condition typically fatal without therapeutic intervention.

Let us be perfectly clear: all this is intentional.

It is a campaign of annihilation in response to military rebellion by the indigenous Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-N). The SPLA-N has repeatedly mauled Khartoum’s regular and militia forces, especially in the Nuba, and the response has been a systematic aerial campaign to destroy agricultural production. It is on the verge of success, as people are simply too fearful to plant, tend, or harvest most of their larger fields. At the same time, Khartoum maintains a complete humanitarian embargo on regions under rebel control (the great majority of territory in the Nuba).

The weapon of choice is the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) Antonov “bomber.” Of course the Antonov is not a military bomber, but rather a retrofitted Russian cargo plane from which crude but deadly barrel bombs are simply rolled out the cargo bay, spreading a hail of shrapnel in all directions on impact. The have no militarily purposeful precision, but they are extraordinarily efficient in creating civilian terror. Early on in the conflict, Khartoum also deployed Sukhoi-25 military jet aircraft, also based at el-Obeid, but Dr. Catena told me that the SAF has settled into a pattern of sufficient regularity with Antonovs to keep fear so high that people are unable to farm.

Khartoum is presently concluding a deal with Ukraine to purchase five more Antonovs.

The conspicuous precedent here is the genocidal campaign against the Nuba in the 1990s, which very nearly succeeded in destroying them. Current efforts are neither surprising not out of character for this regime. And yet former U.S. special envoy for Sudan Princeton Lyman, in a moment of outrageously ignorant presumption, declared in late June 2011 that,

“Nuba Mountain people are fighting back and I don’t think the North is capable of dislodging large numbers of people on an ethnic basis…. Second, I’m not sure that’s the objective of the government.” (June 28, 2011).

[Presumably, in light of the evidence now at hand, Ambassador Lyman no longer cleaves to his factitious skepticism about Khartoum's "objective"—ER, September 27, 2014]

[full interview with Dr. Catena, the only surgeon working in the Nuba Mountains, at |

  • Sudan Tribune, "NISS to deploy more rapid support militias to suppress South Kordofan rebels," April 26, 2014 (KHARTOUM)

The Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) has announced that it is deploying additional Rapid Support Forces (RSF) troops to South Kordofan in order to end rebellion in the state. The RSF militia, which is widely known as the Janjaweed militias, were originally mobilised by the Sudanese government to quell the insurgency that broke out in Sudan’s western region of Darfur in 2003.

The militia was activated and restructured again in August last year under the command of NISS to fight rebel groups in Darfur region, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states following joint attacks by Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) rebels in North and South Kordofan in April 2013…. The move comes within a framework of a plan to intensify military operations in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states following statements made by senior military commanders that this summer would witness the end of rebellion in both areas.

  • Radio Dabanga, "Intensified attacks on South Kordofan villages displace more than 100,000," 14 May 2014

The security situation in the Nuba Mountains, South Kordofan, deteriorated since mid April, when government forces began their attacks on areas in Rashad and Habila localities. As of 12 May, the estimated number of newly displaced in South Kordofan is close to 116,000. Several areas west of Rashad town were bombed by the Sudanese Air Force from 13 to 18 April. The area of Abri in neighbouring Habila locality was bombed on 28 April, the Nuba-based Human Rights and Development Organisation (Hudo) reported in its April report. The Sudan Armed Forces, backed by the paramilitary Popular Defence Forces, and the Rapid Support Forces also attacked the areas on the ground.

The aerial and ground attacks on the villages west of Rashad town, Um Darawa, Tendimin, El Beyeera, El Mangala, Serein, Elsaraf, Woroula, Douma, El Mansour, El Moglum and Keleiro, have resulted in a wave of displacement towards Rashad town, where more than 7,000 newly displaced have occupied schools and mosques. Other families fled to Abu Gebeiha and Abbasiya, and as far as Um Rawaba and El Obeid in North Kordofan. Elders and pregnant women, who failed to walk a distance of 15 km to Rashad, sought refuge in the mountains. The newly displaced are, apart from food and shelter, in dire need of drinking water, as many water resources have been destroyed.

In the areas controlled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), the Sudanese Air Force has intensified its aerial bombardments in April, in particular the area around Kauda. The bombings also affected the Nuba who were living in refugee camps in the South Sudanese Upper Nile State and Unity State, and fled from the fighting there, and returned to the southern areas of South Kordofan. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that per 12 May, the estimated number of newly displaced in South Kordofan, as a result of the intensified fighting in April and May, is close to 116,000.

  • REPORT from UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 11 April 2014

[There is only one air force in the various conflicts in Sudan—that of the Sudan Armed Forces; although UNHCR cannot bring itself to state this indisputable fact, but instead refers to "unidentified aircraft," this shows that Khartoum is willing to attack Nuba refugees in South Sudan, as they did in a November 2011 attack: two bombs hit the camp; one, which fortunately did not detonate, hit the perimeter of the school in the camp—ER]

UNHCR is deeply concerned about the safety of refugees and aid workers in Yida, South Sudan, after unidentified aircraft circled over the settlement several times on 9 April [2014]. The sighting raised fears that the refugee settlement may soon come under direct or indirect military attack. The incident came just two days after the aerial bombardment of Neem, a community 26 kilometres north of Yida and close to the disputed border area of Jau. Local authorities reported that on 7 April a suspected military aircraft dropped more than five bombs over Neem….

Yida, a spontaneous settlement sheltering 70,000 Sudanese refugees, has come under aerial attack before. In November 2011, two bombs fell within the camp, including one close to a school for refugee children. Yida is located in the north of Unity State, close to the highly militarized Jau corridor.

Eric Reeves' book-length study of greater Sudan (Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 - 2012;; review commentary at:

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