Monday, September 30, 2013

Syrian rebels reject the West? (continued)

The background, clashes between ISIS and other rebel groups in Azaz and elsewhere:
The Islamic State of Iraq and [the] Levant (ISIL) (*), an armed group operating in Syria and a US-designated "terrorist organisation", announced last week it would "go to war" against two other rebel groups in the town of al-Bab, in Aleppo governorate.The two groups had stormed the ISIL headquarters - based in a school - in an attempt to evict its fighters. ISIL had refused to comply with an agreement among the town's rebel factions to stay away from education institutions and allow children to return to school in the new academic year. The raid led to an hours-long firefight, and both sides traded blame after several people were left injured. 
The situation in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, near the Iraqi border, is hardly any better. On Saturday night, deadly clashes in al-Bu Kamal erupted between jihadists and the Allahu Akbar Brigade, an opposition group credited with the capture of the city from Assad forces in November 2012 and which also operates under the Supreme Military Council. 
In the northeastern province of al-Raqqa, meanwhile, fighting between ISIL fighters and the Ahfad al-Rasoul battalion, another Supreme Military Council-linked organisation, also killed some 11 people in the past month. ISIL accused Ahfad al-Rasoul of being collaborators with the Assad regime - and blew up its headquarters, rounding up several of its members. ISIL also released a video that purports to show an Ahfad al-Rasoul commander admitting to being a French intelligence agent. An Ahfad al-Rasoul fighter told Al Jazeera the confession was filmed under duress, pointing to the commander's shaking voice and tied hands. "Had we been collaborators with the regime, you would not have seen us at the hotspots," said Ibrahim Edliby.
(Al Jazeera report, The end of the rebel alliance?)
The formation of the Islamic Coalition also came less than a week after a major escalation in fighting between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the other al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and the Free Syrian Army. Tensions rose after the Islamic State seized control of the Azaz border-crossing in Aleppo from the FSA’s Northern Storm Brigade and then spread to other parts of Syria including Raqqa, the province where al-Qaeda’s footprint is deepest. Protests against the Islamic State – and counter-protests in support of it – erupted throughout the country.

Significantly, what began as a rebel vs. jihadist showdown soon transformed into a jihadist vs. jihadist one. The Islamic State even battled Nusra in Hasakah, reifying months of simmering hostility between the more hardcore and veteran Zarqawist branch of al-Qaeda (the Islamic State was established a decade ago in Iraq) and the comparatively more “pragmatic” junior partner (Nusra came into existence in late 2011) [..] And, just to complicate things further, an entire “division” of the FSA defected to Nusra in Raqqa last Thursday. According to local activists cited by the Syria Deeply website, the FSA’s Division 11 felt hopelessly outgunned and terrified by the Islamic State and saw Nusra as their only safeguard against annihilation. This was doubly interesting, in fact, because the Islamic State had expelled Nusra from Raqqa last spring. Nusra only returned on September 7 and evidently in enough force to become the second-most powerful militia in the province in a matter of days. In a just world, it would fall to Lewis Carroll rather than your humble servant to explain why moderate rebels would align with al-Qaeda in order to close ranks against al-Qaeda. (Islamists assemble, Michael Weiss) 
Ayman al-Zawahiri accuses the FSA of being an American agent (whereas in fact they are not receiving aid in any meaninful way):
Once united in the fight against government forces, the ISIL and other similar groups have recently labelled some Supreme Military Council factions "Sahwat", likening them to US-funded "Awakening Councils" in Iraq. Those armed groups established themselves in Sunni tribal areas in 2005 ostensibly to help the Iraqi government with security, as violence raged throughout the country. The Awakening units were at the forefront of the fight against al-Qaeda and other jihadists in Iraq. Now, some suspect the US is planning to establish similar armed factions in Syria.
ISIL's leadership is based in Iraq and its ranks include many non-Syrian fighters. It has declared a "purifying maliciousness" military campaign to round up fighters from the al-Nasr and al-Farouq battalions, both operating under the loose banner of the Western-backed Supreme Military Council.
Echoing the fears of jihadist groups that other rebel groups may turn their arms against them - especially if Assad's regime falls - al-Qaeda's leader Ayman al-Zawahiri said in a video recording released on September 11 the "Sahwat the US is trying to create in the Levant will be destroyed - God willing". He urged armed Islamist groups not to "reconcile with secularists and enemies of Islam in any way". The talk of a possible air strikes by the US on Syrian military installations has accentuated divisions on the ground and deepened the jihadists' suspicions of secular and moderate Islamist armed groups. (Al Jazeera report)
On September 11, the global head of al-Qaeda elected to celebrate the twelfth anniversary of his organization’s most spectacular terrorist attack by adding the Free Syrian Army to his list of “enemies of Islam.” Zawahiri’s rationale was that the FSA was an American hireling and therefore an inevitable vehicle for an “Awakening”-style turn against al-Qaeda in Syria. So an enormous bull’s-eye was suddenly painted on the back of this loose confederation of rebel militias, many of which had been pining in vain for over a year to see Zawahiri’s portrayal of them made real. His words were not wasted. Within days of this announcement, the Islamic State launched Operation “Purification of Filth” (rhetoric not really indicative of a localized territorial spat or ideological misunderstanding) aimed at sites in Aleppo run mostly by the al-Farouq and al-Nasr brigades, both members of the US-backed Supreme Military Command of the Free Syrian Army. This is what led to the Islamic State’s seizure of Azaz, a crisis that was only tenuously negotiated after Liwa al-Tawhid, one of the new signatories to the Islamic Coalition, dispatched reinforcements to the border crossing, effectively surrounding the Islamic State nasties, and shooting a few too.  (Michael Weiss)
Supreme Military Council commanders have unequivocally called on Washington to carry out missile strikes on Assad's military assets, hoping such an offensive could help bring the regime down. The jihadists, meanwhile, say if the US decides to intervene militarily in the Syria, they themselves would not be spared. "Once the Syrian skyline is violated, the air strikes would extend to the positions of the jihadists [in rebel-controlled areas]. They will start targeting them in the name of the fight against terrorism," a member of Jabhat al-Nusra [..] told Al Jazeera.
Bracing for a US attack, members of ISIL have already emptied some of their offices in Aleppo, relocating to more discreet areas in the northern city's suburbs. Commanders in Jabhat al-Nusra have also taken new security measures in anticipation of a US strike, the source in the group told Al Jazeera, speaking on condition of anonymity. The Jabhat al-Nusra member said he believed the West was intervening in the country because "the US proxies" in Syria were losing ground to the jihadists. "The developments in Syria are straying away from the US calculations," he said. "The Syrian street has never been more attuned with the Islamists and more supportive of an Islamic project in the country the way it is now. Syrians have been rejecting the Western-backed projects in the country, including the Jarba project."
The Jarba project is a proposal put forward by Ahmad Jarba, the leader of the opposition Syrian National Coalition. He called for the creation of a 6,000-strong national army to unite the hundreds of rebel groups and to counter the influence of the jihadists. The proposal has not yet materialised because of a lack of logistical and financial resources, said spokesman Louay Mokdad of the Supreme Military Council, the military wing of the Syrian National Coalition. "It would be a proper national army with the purpose to protect the Syrian people from those who kill them, be it the Syrian regime or anyone else," Mokdad told Al Jazeera. "If the jihadists see themselves in a position where they are killing Syrian people, then this would be their problem." (Al Jazeera report)
ISIS are not focusing on the struggle against Assad, some accuse:
[The Ahfad al-Rasoul fighter] said ISIL was trying to capture strategic areas from other rebels who had fought for months to take control of territory from Assad forces. "You do not see ISIL fighters in hotspots clashing with the regime. You see them trying to extend their control to areas we struggled hard to liberate." (Al Jazeera report)
Michael Weiss does have his critics. Aymenn J Al-Tamimi tweeted: ‏Basic error in this piece: Jabhat al-Nusra was not 'expelled' by ISIS from Raqqa in the spring as the author claims: ... . It turns out that Weiss is accused of being "pro-SNC".

* ISIL / ISIS Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham or of Iraq and the Levant or of Iraq and Syria - the Levant and, I think, al-Sham refer to "Greater Syria", that is, including Lebanon at least. "Currently, the Arabic term Suriyya refers to the modern state of Syria." (wikipedia)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Syrian rebels reject the West?

Some big news breaking early on the 25th.
  : Northern Storm Brigade supports recent rebel statement rejecting SNC & democracy for Islam as law of land: //   ... //  @abdulkadr_saleh Translated from Arabic by Translator, The Islamic Alliance @ statement (1 ) :: on the coalition and the Government assumed 24-9-13

25/9 11 islamist groups say they do not recognize SNC, group based outside Syria did not represent them (BBC WS, 8:03) Islamists reject Syria coalition
(12:00) New Islamist Bloc Declares Opposition to National Coalition and US Strategy Posted by Aron Lund on Tuesday, September 24th, 2013 (US time)
Abdelaziz Salame, the highest political leader of the Tawhid Brigade in Aleppo, has issued a statement online where he claims to speak for 13 different rebel factions. [..] what it purports to do is to gut Western strategy on Syria and put an end to the exiled opposition.
The statements has four points, some of them a little rambling. My summary:
  • All military and civilian forces should unify their ranks in an “Islamic framwork” which is based on “the rule of sharia and making it the sole source of legislation”.
  • The undersigned feel that they can only be represented by those who lived and sacrificed for the revolution.
  • Therefore, they say, they are not represented by the exile groups. They go on to specify that this applies to the National Coalition and the planned exile government of Ahmed Touma, stressing that these groups “do not represent them” and they “do not recognize them”.
  • In closing, the undersigned call on everyone to unite and avoid conflict, and so on, and so on.
Who are these people? The alleged signatories make up a major part of the northern rebel force, plus big chunks also of the Homs and Damascus rebel scene, as well as a bit of it elsewhere. Some of them are among the biggest armed groups in the country [..]  All together, they control at least a few tens of thousand fighters, and if you trust their own estimates (don’t) it must be way above 50,000 fighters. Most of the major insurgent alliances are included. Liwa al-Tawhid, Liwa al-Islam and Suqour al-Sham are in both the Western- and Gulf-backed Supreme Military Council (SMC a.k.a. FSA) and the SILF, sort-of-moderate Islamists. Ahrar al-Sham and Haqq are in the SIF, very hardline Islamists. Jabhat al-Nosra, of course, is an al-Qaida faction. Noureddin al-Zengi are in the Asala wa-Tanmiya alliance (which is led by quietist salafis, more or less) as well as in the SMC. [..] already at this stage, it looks – on paper, at least – like the most powerful insurgent alliance in Syria.
Is this a big deal? Yes, if the statement proves to accurately represent the groups mentioned and they do not immediately fall apart again, it is a very big deal. It represents the rebellion of a large part of the “mainstream FSA” against its purported political leadership, and openly aligns these factions with more hardline Islamist forces.
That means that all of these groups now formally state that they do not recognize the opposition leadership that has been molded and promoted by the USA, Turkey, France, Great Britain, other EU countries, Qatar, and – especially, as of late – Saudi Arabia.
Why now? According to a Tawhid Brigade [Liwa al-Tawhid] spokesperson, it is because of the “conspiracies and compromises that are being forced on the Syrian people by way of the [National] Coalition”. [..]
Mohammed Alloush of the Islam Brigade (led by his relative, Mohammed Zahran Alloush), who is also a leading figure in the SILF alliance, was up late tweeting tonight. He had a laundry list of complaints against the National Coalition, including the fact that its members are all, he says, “appointed”, i.e. by foreign powers. He also opposed its planned negotiations with the regime. This may have been in reference to a (widely misinterpreted) recent statement by the Coalition president Ahmed Jerba [see below]. Alloush also referred to the recent deal between the National Coalition and the Kurdish National Council, and was upset that this will (he thinks) splinter Syria and change its name from the Syrian Arab Republic to the Syrian Republic.

Who’s missing? These are of course not all the rebels; far from it. Dozens or hundreds of small and local groups are missing from this alliance, just like they’ve been missing from every other alliance before it. Some really big groups are also not in there, like the Farouq Battalions or the Ahfad al-Rasoul Brigades, both of them quite closely aligned with the SMC and the National Coalition.
Most notably, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham [ISIS] – Syria’s most querulous al-Qaida faction – is absent from the list. Given the recent surge in tension between the Islamic State and other factions, that seems significant. Does it mean the new coalition is in fact aimed at isolating the Islamic State, while also upping its own Islamist credentials? Striking a kind of third way between the Western-backed SMC and its al-Qaida rival? Maybe. The question then remains, what should we make of Jabhat al-Nosra [Nusra front] being included, which is also an al-Qaida group. [Rami al-Lolah ‏@RamiAlLolah @Charles_Lister JAN is needed in the alliance for the sake of isolating ISIS AQ!  12:03 AM - 25 Sep 13 ]
In either case, the Northern Storm Brigade – which was routed by the Islamic State in its home town of Aazaz just recently – has quickly expressed support for the new coalition. In a statement posted online, they fell over themselves to explain how they’ve always been all about implementing sharia law. This is of course, how shall I put it, not true. [..]
the reason that the Northern Storm Brigade has suddenly gone all Islamist is that they desperately seek protection from Tawhid, after being beaten up by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Perhaps they also figure that this alliance might be the only thing big and mean enough to actually crush the Islamic State. Size, money and momentum are the things to look for in Syrian insurgent politics – ideology comes fourth, if even that. That’s also why this statement seems so important.
On the other hand, the statement is in no way hostile to the ISIS. It might in fact suit them pretty well, since it weakens the hand of the Western-backed camp and adds weight to Islamist demands. When I asked a representative of Tawhid, he said the reason they’re not on the list of signatories is just because they’re not members. If they want to, and share the principles, they could join.

Is it just a local thing?
There’s also not that much of a presence from the Syrian south. The Furqan Brigade is an exception – founded in Kanaker, and now stretching from the western Ghouta to Quneitra. Then you have the Islam Brigade in Damascus, the Homsi Haqq Brigade, and so on. Generally speaking, however, this list of names has a heavy northern flavor to it, specifically Aleppine.On the scanned original statement, there’s even an addition of “Aleppo” next to the name of “Abdullah al-Shami”, who signed for Jabhat al-Nosra. The Tawhid spokesperson, again, says that this doesn’t mean they only signed on for the Aleppo branch. He insists that the alliance is intended for all of Syria.

[..] foreign funders could put the squeeze on groups that have not grasped the magnitude of what they just said.
On the statement by Ahmed Jerba (Ahmad Jarba) and the alleged misinterpretation by Reuters, this seems to relate mainly to the omission of words such as, "Cette décision, qui sera axée sur le départ d’Assad et de tous ceux qui portent une part de responsabilité dans la mort de Syriens .. La  Coalition réaffirme son plein engagement en faveur d'une solution politique agréée par l'Assemblée générale. Elle déplore que le régime d’Assad, qui ne souhaite pas de processus politique, poursuive sa campagne meurtrière contre les Syriens", which the SNC has said often enough in the past. 

Islamists assemble, Michael Weiss:
It was no coincidence that this repudiation of Syria’s Washington-backed leadership followed swiftly from several major turning points. The first was the calamitous US climb-down from direct military action for the Assad regime’s August 21 chemical weapons attack in East Ghouta. The majority of yesterday’s rebel signatories had been hoping for weeks for US airstrikes on regime installations – however minor or symbolic these might have been – because they would have at least afforded the chance for opportunistic ground assaults. Two weeks ago, while on assignment in Antakya, I interviewed half a dozen fighters who felt, not for the first time, completely disillusioned with the United States for a promised intervention that got un-promised overnight
More to follow.
The West has lost Syria, Ana Maria Luca:
The truth is that the West has lost Syria. Simply because they deceived the Syrian people into waiting for two and a half years for the international support that never came. For two and a half years they had hope. But in Washington, London, Paris, Moscow the bureaucrats had dinners and elegant debates over doctrines and interests. Now, the Syrians’ hope is gone.  Eventually, they turned to the only faction that can actually give them a chance to earn their freedom.
More media reports.
Zeina Khodr ‏@ZeinakhodrAljaz 1:57 PM - 25 Sep 13 
Fighting rages in Syria as UN team returns: 25 Sep 2013 19:51
Opposition revolt Reports of Wednesday's fighting came as 13 rebel groups released a statement saying they rejected the authority of any foreign-based opposition groups, including the internationally recognised National Coalition. The groups include members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), nominally the military arm of the National Coalition, but also groups such as the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra. Critics of the National Coalition, which is based in Istanbul, Turkey, say it is not transparent with its funding and political functioning. They say it is out of touch with people in Syria, where more than 100,000 have been killed and large chunks of territory have been destroyed by combat and shelling. Some Jabhat al-Nusra fighters and supporters who spoke to Reuters news agency said their groups had been courting ideologically moderate rebels as they watched their relationship sour with the National Coalition.
Saudi Arabia, which had taken over as the main foreign player and financier of the National Coalition, is said to have been trying to sideline Islamist rebels and bolster secular forces. "Our brigades are tired of the National Coalition's strategy. It is acting on the exterior and ignoring the interior," one Nusra supporter said. "And a lot of the moderate Islamists were shoved aside when Qatar's role was overtaken by Saudi Arabia. The Saudis started aggressively supporting the secular groups."
( See also The end of the rebel alliance?, 14/9)

Powerful rebel forces reject authority
WP: Syria's biggest rebel factions align with Al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra. Updated with US caught unawares.
NYT: Key Syrian Rebel Groups Abandon Exile Leaders By BEN HUBBARD and MICHAEL R. GORDON As diplomats push for a peace conference to end Syria’s conflict, a collection of some of the country’s most powerful rebel groups publicly abandoned the opposition’s political leaders

Aron Lund  UPDATE, Sep. 25, 2013:
Lots of media have now reported on the joint statement based mainly on this blog post. Unfortunately, some have shed all the “what if” and caution.
I contacted the Tawhid Brigade spokesperson I talked to earlier, who had spoken of this as a gathering (tajammou) or bloc (takattul) that might have more lasting significance. He says there is so far nothing in the way of a common organization. He explicitly denied that it is anything like the SILF or SIF insurgent alliances. There will be more statements, but at this stage he seems to say it’s really only a position paper by the 11 or 13 (see below) factions involved. [..] When I pointed out that Abdulqader Saleh’s rather offhand comment on Twitter using the phrase “Islamic Alliance” or “Islamic Coalition” (al-tahaluf al-islami) could be interpreted as the name of a new group, and that this version is now gaining currency in the media, he responded “it could become that, but so far there’s nothing”.

[..] two of the groups included on the list of signatories above are not mentioned in either the video statement by Abdulaziz Salame or the scanned copy of the declaration. The groups in question are the Haqq Brigade of Homs and the Furqan Brigades of Quneitra. That’s true. I copied and translated my list from a text version on the Tawhid Brigade website. That text has since been altered to fall in line with the signed copy and the video statement, removing the names of both groups. According to the Tawhid Brigade spokesman, both Furqan and Haqq were part of the drafting process and are verbally in agreement with the statement, but he says they were not present for the signing ceremony.
Incidentally, the Al Jazeera report cited above seems to indicate that the rebels are making some gains on the ground, although they are small.

Opposition activists told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that the fighters were now "in control of most of Ramtha post" in the southern province of Deraa.

The clashes came as the UN inspectors returned to Syria to investigate the use of chemical weapons. Convoys of inspectors arrived at a Damascus hotel on Wednesday, a week after they confirmed that sarin gas was used in an attack August 21 in the suburbs of the Syrian capital. ... The team of investigators is expected to examine the alleged use of chemical weapons up to 14 times in Syria's 30-month conflict.

On the ground, meanwhile, fierce fighting erupted in the strategic northern town of Areeha, forcing locals to seek cover in nearby caves. Rebels are battling for control of the town, which sits along a key supply route for Assad's forces. In the northern province of Aleppo, rebels said they seized control of the Madajen district, another key supply route for the regime that is located near the airport road.

Activists in the northeastern province of Raqqa reported the death of five people in air raids by government fighter jets on the city of Tabqa.

Fighter jets also dropped shells near a bakery [in] rebel-held Raqqa city, activists reported, causing several casualties and fire outbreak in the area. Activist[s] in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta witnessed heavy artillery shelling by regime forces on Wednesday. The town has been under blockade for several months and medical supplies there are running desperately low.

Syria's crisis: reactions from left and right

Some comments on Jeff Weintraub's Who carried out those poison gas attacks around Damascus? – Human Rights Watch pins the blame on the Syrian regime:
 The Syrian government has denied responsibility for the attacks
More crucially, so have the Russians.
[Syria] is a party to the 1925 Geneva Gas Protocol
I don't think, though, that anyone has pointed out that Syria was a French colony at this time. See Jeff 's link to the Steve Coll piece. As he says,
 the Syrian opposition is fractured and influenced by jihadi fighters.
See the article by Charles Lister, Syria's insurgency beyond Good Guys and Bad Guys.

Jeff Weintraub again, Playing the Al Qaeda card on Syria:
many of the same people who usually go out of their way to make excuses for jihadist violence by murderous theocratic fanatics (whose actions, after all, are just understandable "blowback" provoked by western violence against Muslims)
This is referring to the "Left" (see George Galloway & Vladimir Putin on liver eaters). But also on the isolationist right: a clip made its way onto British TV (Channel 4 News) of Rand Paul questioning why, "on this day of all days" (11 Sept.), we would be taking the same side as al Qaeda (*). 
and the less extremist tendencies within the opposition are starved for arms and supplies.  The result is to strengthen the role of the most murderous, intolerant, and fanatical Sunni jihadists on the rebel side.)
I absolutely agree, as The Economist, amongst others, argued some months ago. But the argument seems to be getting harder and harder to win.

I had a trawl through Twitter (David Pi ‏@DavidPi992000) and found 2 more great pieces, on the Left and Right and their curious bedfellows:

12 Sep  Read 's great takedown of Assad propagandists. Same is true of some anti-Assads. Qn, verify.

12 Sep, The New Truthers: Americans Who Deny Syria Used Chemical Weapons via . I love this sentence: "What the letter lacks in verifiable sources, it makes up for in its ideological serviceability." This is also an important point:
Kucinich also cites Global Research in reprising a claim, long since discredited, that the United Nations accused Syrian rebels of using chemical weapons. That rumor originated with a controversial Swiss member of the U.N. independent commission of inquiry, Carla del Ponte, who suggested in May that Assad’s opponents had used chemical weapons. The U.N. swiftly distanced itself from her statements and made clear that its inquiry had "not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict.” 

More notes:
17/9 Armchair analyst
President’s Speech and Online Army Video Point to Iran’s Dueling Interests in Syria
Think Back: America and Isolationism From Charles Lindbergh to the Syrian conflict, the idea of isolationism has a long history in America’s political debate. Sam Tanenhaus explains.

"Less than one third of the opposition forces are "palatable" to Britain, while American envoys put the figure lower.

Hard to argue with much here from 's question, "Who are 's rebels?" - Except this: we can influence!

18 Sep FSA leader:"If we do not get support now, the coming war between us and al Qaeda will not have a good result.”
18 Sep What is next for ’s opposition? | I try to say at or at
19 Sep Rebel-on-Rebel Violence Seizes - WSJ looks at the emerging "three-front war"
-- 19 Sep Every area the FSA liberates, ISIS sets up a headquarters as FSA move on ISIS stay behind. The attacks on FSA were a premeditated plan
--  ‏ 19 Sep Now Syria's rebels are fighting each other via

Syria opposition rejects Iran mediation offer 

22 Sep “Mothers of Gouta's Martyrs” A brave all-female FSA unit formed in eastern Gouta

22/9 Interview with Syrian nun, Ghouta CW attack 21/8, BBC WS Newshour 21:20

Ed Miliband horrified by the appalling CW attacks in . It would have been a rush to war, So I said no. (Ed Miliband MP’s speech to Labour Party Annual Conference 2013. If David Cameron's performance over Financial Times on the debate in the US, but it can't have helped.)

24 Sep Pro-al-Qa'ida page from Tripoli, eulogizes Saddam Hussein: 'You departed, then the Shi'a dogs appeared': 

26/9 Hezbollah faces pressure at home: Zeina Khodr reports, Hezbollah has paid a heavy price ...  Giving up CW has been a strategic loss for Hezbollah as well as Syria.

* Rand Paul, of course, inherits the mantle from his father, Ron. During the presidential election, I was struck by how close his foreign policy position was to that of Ralph Nader, to the point where somebody suggested they could be running-mates  (C-span, 16 Jan 2012).

Jeff Weintraub comments in another post:
One other point does strike me, though, concerning the US right-wingers in this drama.  Rand Paul is a long-term, consistent, and principled isolationist, so it's not surprising that he should be reaching for any propaganda lines he can find to help increase public opposition to US involvement in Syria (military or otherwise).  But people like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, as well as other right-wingers now singing the same tune, have no record as dyed-in-the-wool isolationists.  It's pretty clear that their positions on Syria are based simply on reflexive opposition to anything Obama proposes and an across-the-board commitment to demonizing Obama whatever the circumstances or issues involved, whatever the repercussions, and whatever company it puts them in.  As Glenn Beck put it (sounding remarkably like the obsessively anti-American Australian/British ranter and one-time journalist John Pilger):  Nowadays Vladimir Putin "looks like the Nobel Peace Prize winner, and our President looks like the mad killer."
Published 11 Nov 2013

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Syria: notes, Sept. 2013

In this month, the US backed away from air strikes in response to the chemical weapons attacks around Damascus. I've finally got around to putting a jumble of notes into some sort of order. 

First, Ian Pannell's report on the BBC (29/8): an incendiary bomb dropped on to a school playground in the north of the country. Eyewitnesses describe a fighter jet dropping the device ...

Syria crisis: Incendiary bomb victims 'like the walking dead'. A BBC team inside Syria filming for Panorama has witnessed the aftermath of a fresh horrific incident -  - which has left scores of children with napalm-like burns over their bodies. ... , a low explosion, followed by columns of fire and smoke.
30/9 : For those outside UK, clip of devastating . Saving Syria's ChildrenFirst broadcast: 30 Sep 2013 (available 1 year).

31/8 Syria: The rhetoric and the repercussions - Inside Syria, with presenter Hazem Sika, guests: Meir Javendanfar, an Israeli Middle East analyst and co-author of The Nuclear Sphynx of Tehran; Gilbert Achcar, a professor of International Relations at the School of Oriental and African studies (SOAS), University of London; and Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian defence analyst who writes for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper.
Rough notes
Javendanfar (Tel Aviv): chances of retaliation against Israel low, but he shows no mercy against his own people
Achcar (London): scale; if limited? Lebanon? Hezbollah no interest in opening new front against Israel, don't want to change balance of forces except very slightly, want to get agreement with regime, not supporter of Syrian revolution.
Felgenhauer (Moscow): violation of international law, Russia strategic interests ? rhetoric in Moscow stepped up, agression, must help Assad win this war, Assad would not use CW because he would not, there was no CW attack. Achcar: if Assad is winning, why did he need help of Hezbollah, recent shipments of weapons have allowed rebels to go on offensive, as in Latakia; BBC, incendiary bombs on playground, from jet fighters. Javendanfar: gap in Iranian leadership, Rouhani condemns any side using CW; hardliners want to continue supporting regime, defensive shield, would strengthen Saudis and Israel, after strikes would turn into even more of a liability. Felgenhauer: cut Assad loose? Would not disrupt supply line, essential. Possible escalation, destabilize. US-Russia relations bad. Javendanfar: Iranian nuclear programme, Russia to scrap S-300 missiles to Iran. Why focus on [CW] rather than > 100,000? Achcar: good question, restoring credibility, maximum, restore balance, regime will not compromise unless it faces difficult military situation. Let them fight it out? As in Iran-Iraq war, that's why Washington not showing urgency, same for Israel.

Why the very bad arguments for intervening in Syria matter (Washington Post, 5 Sep):
They’re invested in Syria because they want Assad to stop killing his people with any kinds of weapons right now.
The problem is that achieving that goal requires a military intervention of a size and length that America is not willing to countenance. So they’re increasingly trying to justify the military intervention that Americans might countenance by using the arguments for the military interventions they won’t consider.
7/9 Can Obama win support for a strike on Syria? Inside Syria, guests: Richard Murphy, a former US ambassador to Syria and Saudi Arabia; Saleh Mubarak from the Syrian National Council; and Vyacheslav Matuzov, a former Russian diplomat and currently the chairman of the Russian Friendship Society with Arab Countries.
Rough notes
Murphy (New York): use of chemical weapons unacceptable, deter. Matuzov (Moscow): Russia agrees not acceptable, but who is that side that used ... Mubarak (in studio): 1500 killed by CW in Ghouta, 125 - 150,000 elsewhere, no question who is killing civilians. What support? Murphy: limited, not publicly, US public and congress, strong interest in evidence. France waiting for UN report, why? French public opinion hostile. Ashton endorses French position. Timing not a problem. Mubarak: depend on public opinion, WMD in Iraq, Afghanistan, not taking step back; we do know who is behind attack, but we want to prove it, willing to accept neutral committee. Matuzov: embarrassing me personally, Turkish police captured people carrying 3-5 Kg of Sarin from N Iraq to Syria, 2nd Aleppo, chemical materials used. Afraid to confront Assad? not at all. Support, not Hezbollah, don't need, heard from Lavrov, numbers from midE even Europe, 40,000. Mubarak: foreign fighters on both sides, numbers not as great; support to mainstream FSA would marginalize those groups. strike, propaganda by regime, lesser of 2 evils, going on with status quo, Americans advanced in precision hits, target not people, but facilities of WMD. Murphy: backlash if innocent people die? focusing on facilities, fixed targets, that were involved in attacks.
Matuzov: when announced, million rushed to neighbouring countries; civil war in Lebanon. Mubarak: accidents could happen, but ... Aleppo, ... defected, evidence it was the regime.

8/9 The BBC reached an activist in Muadhamiya: "Since the chemical strike, the bombing is coming more and more heavier ..."  You must worry if there are American strikes ...?  "We have absolutely no regrets ... we will be more than happy to see that coming. This time the missiles won't be on us, it will be against the people who are killing our sons and our daughters and our mothers since over 2 and a half years ... We have the FSA to protect us and we also have God who has been very merciful with us during these 2 and a half years." These strikes are not about changing the regime, are you worried that you will be disappointed? "... I will welcome any kind of help, even the smallest kind of help. We wish that there will be once and for all action, that they will bring down Bashar al-Assad, but even if the strike was limited, it is better than no strike, because [if] there wasn't going to be any kind of military intervention, Assad will understand, like he understand it before, that the world is giving him green light to keep on killing us without any kind of consequences, while we see that just Russia and China and Iran and Hezbollah mercenaries are the ones who are truly taking serious action on the ground. We have seen Iranians in our own eyes fighting next to the Assad regime ... : we have seen the dark side of humanity taking action, while the good side of humanity, which is supposed to be the western world ... civilised places, we have seen them do absolutely nothing." ... (explosion) "It's just a nearby shell."   (Newshour, 21:24,+17:30-22:48)
Juan Cole, When Syria was a US Ally (or at Least Helpful):
 4. Syria fought as an ally of the US against Iraq in the Gulf War in 1991.
As I wrote in 2003, [an international coalition], including Egyptian, Syrian and Saudi forces, fought for the defined objective of reversing Saddam Hussein's aggression against Kuwait. These Arab states in the region, Sunni Muslim, in particular Saudi Arabia, feared that if further action were taken [to change the regime], Iraq could fragment, strengthening Iran. Alternatively, you could have an Iraq run by its majority, heaven forbid, the Shi'a - another Iran. [..] Syria was the only country in favour of further action against Iraq.

Former Iranian President Slams Syria for Gassing own People: Sign of deep Divisions in Tehran Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani

Military-Ruled Egypt Opposes US Strike on Syria

11/9 Bernard Kouchner, on the Russian plan "it was under the international pressure, mainly [..] by the US and France, that it has been forced. For the time being, the Russians are not ready to accept a resolution with a timetable and with the threat of rétorsion [reprisals, retaliation, punishment]. We should maintain our military pressure." (BBCR4, World at One, 13:33-13:38)

Battle for Maaloula continues, Jeremy Bowen reports, gov't trying to retake from al-Nusra Front (BBCWS, 16:00) Obama puts Syria strike on hold  - Jeremy Bowen's reports from Syria. Lina Simjab: the army betrayed us. (BBCWS) Rand Paul: taking same side as AQ (see next post). Even, Douglas Murray, self-proclaimed neocon, opposes intervention on the grounds that it's too late. (Channel 4 News, 10/9)
Is the religious importance of Syria being ignored? - video
Battle for Syria Christian town of Maaloula continues

14/9 In The Financial Times, A long week: Putin’s diplomatic gambit, James Blitz (Registration, limited access):
Many will also judge that Mr Obama has emerged weaker. Over the past three weeks he has zigzagged from one initiative to another. “I can’t think of a foreign policy issue in my lifetime where America has offered us so little sense of strategy and such a strong sense of making things up as it goes along,” says one British official. Others will see this judgment as too harsh. For one thing, Mr Obama can argue that his initial threat of military action has forced Mr Putin to give ground on Syria, putting some heat on Mr Assad for the first time.
War stories How Max Hastings went from being seduced by the thrill of the battle to discomfort about intervention in Syria - we are uncertain of the outcome, in a "war of choice" you can't "flatten cities".

Published 11 Nov 2013

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Best of the rest (August)

2/8 Tunisian assault on Islamist rebel -  Rouhani laments Jerusalem 'wound'

19/8 Libya on the Line: The war retold
20/8 Libyan troops clash with striking oil workers
31/8 The Financial Times reports that Libyan oil production has fallen, due to lack of security and in-fighting of militias.

Nigeria claims Boko Haram chief may be dead

Iraq: 17 Feb 2011, protests outside KDP offices in Sulaimaniya 10 killed, Roadtrip Iraq, Al-Jazeera World, 1 Aug 2013.

Update 25 Sept: Video released of 'Boko Haram chief'

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dawoud and El-Haddad again

Khaled Dawoud (in translation, via @Gerard_Steeghs)
Despite their belief that the Muslim Brotherhood had completely deviated from the revolution's goals, the stated aim of the parties and movements that rose up to defend the goals of the January 25 Revolution was never to crush the Muslim Brotherhood, imprison its entire leadership and ban them from political activity – and of course not to kill them and mow them down in the hundreds. The actors who are now moving in this direction belonged to a different current that is completely unrelated to the January 25 Revolution; they are the ones who have considered the revolution from the start to be a conspiracy to put an end to their power, influence and corruption [..] The current trend toward exclusion is backed by those who belong to intellectual currents that have always considered the Brotherhood's ideology to be an obscurantist project at odds with the principles of the Nahda and Egypt's progress toward joining the ranks of the European democracies. In my view, these people do not represent the majority in Egypt's secular parties of any orientation, whether liberal, leftist or nationalist, since to put it simply, Egypt isn't France.

Jihad al-Haddad [Gehad El-Haddad ‏ ...] came under fire from some Egyptian social media users who accused him of misleading the Western media about events on the ground in Egypt.
[Senior Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed al-Beltagi] has taken a more hardline tone when addressing Muslim Brotherhood supporters and Arabic-language media. Privately-owned daily Al-Tahrir quotes Mr Beltagi as telling protestors in Rabaa al-Adawiyah on 3 July: "Say goodbye to your mother, father, and wife, because you will sacrifice your soul to defend Muhammad Morsi's legitimacy."
That's not necessarily an exhortation to violence: many did in fact "sacrifice their souls" in the face of "the killing machines of the army or the police".
Mr Beltagi urged supporters on 11 August to remain in Rabaa square, telling them "your brothers in Algeria gave the greatest example when they offered a million martyrs".
A video circulating online and on television in July shows Mr Beltagi saying: "[The MB] are not controlling the current violent upheaval in Sinai, however what is happening in Sinai is in response to that military coup, [the violence] will stop once [Army Chief] Abdul Fattah al-Sisi ends the coup."
There follow some inflammatory remarks from a preacher [who is] not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, [but] a staunch supporter and considered one of their strongest allies" and from "an Islamist with ties to Jihad groups and a Muslim Brotherhood supporter [who] was granted the stage at Rabaa al-Adawiyah on 21 June".

Mahmoud Salem (Sandmonkey, @sandmonkey on Twitter) writes:
 For Egyptians, it’s an amalgamation of the worst and cheapest form of propaganda from the ‘90s and the ‘50s. It’s a brilliant time capsule to those who didn’t live in that era and it is broadcast daily on the different Egyptian private TV channels, especially CBC and ONTV. While one wouldn’t expect better from the CBC, it is ONTV that is really fascinating to watch.
In the midst of all of this, I find myself missing Gehad Al-Haddad,
It's OK: he was absent from Twitter for a while, but he's back.

13/8 Les intellectuels égyptiens justifient le coup de force mené par l'armée L'intelligentsia soutient la répression des Frères musulmans au nom de la défense de la démocratie. Christophe Ayadd

Update (16:50) No sooner do I write this, there is a new tag on Twitter: . Gehad El-Haddad ‏ has been arrested.
Reuters  Haddad was detained with two other Brotherhood officials in an apartment in Cairo. He served as chief of staff to deputy Brotherhood leader Khairat El-Shater and is the son of Essam El-Haddad, an aide to deposed Islamist president Mohamed Mursi. Haddad [..] is charged with inciting the killing of protesters.

Update (18:40) Egypt seems to have invented the crime of incitement to martyrdom: you urge people to stay in the square in the face of threats from security forces, then when they are removed violently, it's your fault. Either that, or the killing of some protesters counts, killing of others doesn't.

Update (18:50) BBC:  al-Ahram reported that he was suspected of inciting violence and murder. He studied at De Montfort University in the UK.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Putin, Galloway and Assad

9/8 The Kremlin has denied that President Vladimir Putin discussed a deal with the visiting Saudi intelligence chief for Moscow to sell arms to Riyadh in exchange for changing its position on Syria. [Concrete] questions about military co-operation were not discussed" at the July 31 meeting, said Putin's top foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov, quoted by Russian news agencies on Friday. - AFP

27/8 Saudi Arabia offer to Russia included Sochi Winter Olympics (assurances about terrorism), Chechens not to be involved in gov of Syria. Russia refused (BBC WS, 11:15, Moscow corr. )
Russian President, Saudi Spy Chief Discussed Syria, Egypt
Bandar told Putin, “There are many common values ​​and goals that bring us together, most notably the fight against terrorism and extremism all over the world. Russia, the US, the EU and the Saudis agree on promoting and consolidating international peace and security. The terrorist threat is growing in light of the phenomena spawned by the Arab Spring. We have lost some regimes. And what we got in return were terrorist experiences, as evidenced by the experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the extremist groups in Libya. ... As an example, I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us, and they will not move in the Syrian territory’s direction without coordinating with us. These groups do not scare us. We use them in the face of the Syrian regime but they will have no role or influence in Syria’s political future.”

[... Putin said]
, “Our stance on Assad will never change. We believe that the Syrian regime is the best speaker on behalf of the Syrian people, and not those liver eaters.
[ Update 16/9. The day before the debate, on the streets of London there are protests against any Western intervention, bringing out the slogan from before Iraq 2003 again - "stop the war": if only we could - it's been going on for nearly two and a half years now. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail focuses its coverage on an attack on Tony Blair. ]

In the British Parliament debate, George Galloway parroted Vladimir Putin's remark about liver eaters. He is on the same side of the argument as "stability at all costs" Conservatives like (Lord) Douglas Hurd. For both it is revenge for Iraq - the interests of the Syrian people hardly seem to matter.  

9/9 Kevin Maguire in the Daily Mirror says that for every regime atrocity there is a liver-eating rebel. Well, in fact there isn't. But there may be many examples of islamists controlling an area and harshly imposing their views on the population.
Rough notes:
31/7 Mapping the conflict
Who controls what in Syria since the fall of Qusair? - 1 August 2013 Last updated at 16:28 BST

2/8 - Under Fire on Syria, Hezbollah Leader Urges Focus on Israel By ANNE BARNARD 6:19 PM ET Hassan Nasrallah said his Shiite followers would not bend in the face of rising anti-Shiite sentiment among those who oppose his support for the Syrian government.
3/8 claimed that rebel groups including Nusra have captured ammunition dump near Damascus (BBC WS, 21:00).

5/8 Syrian rebels have launched a major offensive on the government stronghold of Latakia. More than 100 people have been killed in the latest clashes, including 19 government soldiers. Al Jazeera's Imran Khan reports.
New video said to show Syrian chemical attack - Syria: new footage shows 'chemical weapon attack' - video - Opposition activists in Syria claim the regime has launched a series of chemical attacks against rebel held areas outside Damascus - and say hundreds of people have shown signs of exposure. Chemical substance but not weapon ? Maybe teargas.
6/8 rebels capture airbase near Aleppo / Turkish border (BBC WS, 09:00) Syria rebels 'capture key air base'  rebels took Minnig airport early on Tuesday. (Twitter) Minnigh Military Airport

8/8 The leader of Syrian National Coalition (SNC) Ahmed al-Jarba attended prayers to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitra in Deraa city. [ReutersTV]
Al Jazeera spoke to Joseph Kechechian, an analyst and senior writer at Gulf News, about the recent alleged attack on Bashar Al-Assad. He says that if the incident is true it shows that the rebels fighters will not give up.

12/8 In Belgium. Some pieces from Le Soir. Rebel fighters do "ce que bon leur chante", says FSA no 2, I don't control them, neither does Selim Idriss. Money goes straight to brigades on the ground, not through central control / army chiefs (état-major). Islamists growing more powerful. [Regarding outside support for moderate rebels], late but better to try. Could be much worse than Iraq or Afghanistan.

Iraq: military coup planned, storm the green zone. Malaki brought in 2 Kurdish Peshmerga brigades to strenthen security. Iraq is becoming ungovernable.
Shi'a man, mother and 2 others killed; using their bodies "as a bed" his wife and two sisters raped by the men in turn. His wife's throat cut, her head held up. Continued to rape her through the night. They said they were A Q, spared his life so he could go and kill Sunnis and stir up sectarian conflict.

13/8 Al-Qaida cherche à exporter le chaos irakien en Syrie Les forces kurdes du Nord syrien sont la cible d'une offensive de l'Etat islamique en Irak et au Levant. Christophe Ayad

Arms Shipments Seen From Sudan to Syria Rebels
In an image taken from the Internet, a Syrian rebel with what appeared to be a Chinese-made FN-6 antiaircraft missile.
In an image taken from the Internet, a Syrian rebel with what appeared to be a Chinese-made FN-6 antiaircraft missile.
Syrian rebels have found an unlikely source for arms in Sudan, whose government sold the weapons to Qatar, which arranged delivery through Turkey, Western officials and the rebels said. 

Rebel Chief in Syria Visits Assad’s Home Region By BEN HUBBARD In a video, the commander of the Free Syrian Army said he was visiting President Bashar al-Assad’s home province to see the “accomplishments” of rebels, who have seized villages in the area.

Syrian War Shapes Trip by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff By THOM SHANKER  Gen. Martin E. Dempsey is visiting Israel and Jordan to discuss what further American aid could help contain the Syria conflict.

17 Aug 2013,
Inside SyriaHezbollah and Assad: An unbreakable alliance? with presenter Kamahl Santamaria, is joined by guests: Rami Khouri, the director of the Issam Fares Institute of Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut; Joseph Kechichian, a senior writer at Gulf News, a former analyst at the RAND Corporation and author of several books including Legal and political Reforms in Saudi Arabia; and Michael Stephens, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute, specialising in defence and security.
Zeina Khodr report. Khouri (Beirut): Takfiri ? Kechichian (Beirut): extremist group; heroic group after 2006. Stephens (in studio, Doha): trying not to push sectarian agenda; swinging the war in Syria, punish them for that, shrine of Zeinab, both think defensive actions. Khouri: dramatic speech; same trap as Bush / Rice, lost its halo, Iranian puppet. Kechichian: be our guest, leave us. Stephens: how much support does Hezbollah provide? Near Lebanese border, not in Damascus; Aleppo attack has not materialized. Chemical weapons. Khouri: difficult. Kechichian: investigating rebels? 

the-ghouta-chemical-attack-propaganda-frenzy (via Rami al-Lolah ‏@RamiAlLolah (Twitter)
A. “Assad wouldn’t be as stupid as to chemically attack during a UN inspection”. B. “Assad is winning the war, why would he need to use chemical weapons?”
Ok let me deal with these one by one.
A. The reality is quite to the contrary, there was never a more perfect time to attack rebel positions with chemical weapons than during the UN visit, because under the Assad agreement with the UN team being allowed to inspect, the team is not allowed to “enter areas where there are ongoing SAA operations” (i.e Ghouta). Furthermore the team needs a UN mandate to investigate areas beyond its prescribed 3, a mandate which needs Russian and Chinese approval.
At the same time, Assad leaning media can launch the entire successful narrative that “he wouldn’t use chemical weapons during a UN visit so this is a rebel hoax to attract UN attention”, allowing him to get away from fingers of blame pointed at him whilst also not risking the UN team uncovering events or even visiting the region.
Anthony Cordesman, one of the more sober military analysts in DC, says what Obama seems about to do is pointless Retweeted by Hannah Allam, 7:24 PM - 27 Aug 13

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ajam and rafidha

Fanar Haddad, The language of anti-Shiism:
Prior to 2003, anti-Shiism in Iraq was perhaps best encapsulated in the term ajam. Ajam (singular ajmi) is an Arabic phrase meaning non-Arab; however, in the modern Middle Eastern vernacular, particularly in Iraq, "the ajam" is usually understood as "the Iranians." Throughout the 20th century this term was used to discredit Shiite activists and political opponents by casting doubt on their national loyalty and Arab pedigree. Sectarian otherness was framed in distinctly national and ethnic terms with scant, if any, reference to sectarian dogma, doctrine, or beliefs.
Few bothered, for example, with [the Shiites'] somewhat ambivalent views toward Aisha or the first three caliphs -- rafidha. Even the Iraqi regime's denunciation of the 1991 southern uprising largely stuck to the prism of ethnicity and only gingerly approached elements of faith, ritual, and doctrine.
Since 2003, ajam, a term that was ubiquitous in what was regarded as anti-Shiite sentiment in Iraq and beyond, has all but disappeared from public usage. In its place has emerged a style of anti-Shiism that was largely the preserve of clerical circles of the Saudi Arabian variant. This is a discourse of exclusion primarily based on religious otherness that is embodied by the word rafidha. This new form of sectarian animosity frames the Shiites as suspect not because of the allegedly ambiguous national loyalties of some nor because of the so-called "ethnic impurity" of others but because of the beliefs that define the sect as a whole.
In dealing with Shiite opposition, ajam was a far more useful tool than rafidha for successive Iraqi regimes, as it allowed for selective exclusion: the state line throughout the 20th century was that some Shiites may be ajam but that does not detract from "our brothers" the "noble Arab Shiite tribes." This starkly contrasts with exclusion on the basis of doctrine which would place all Shiites beyond redemption until they renounce their beliefs and their adherence to Shiism.