Saturday, 31 October 2015

Never mind the Russians, IS is destroying itself

 'This week it was revealed that another mass slaughter by the extremist group had taken place, involving the summary execution of 224 of the group's fighters. They were suspected of attempting to defect to al-Nusra Front, and follows rumours that al-Qaeda's franchise in Syria is growing in popularity due to Russian air raids being aimed at them and other rebel groups - but not IS.

 A month of heavy Russian bombing in Syria, falling almost exclusively on rebel-held towns and cities, has left IS militants in the north and east largely unscathed. It has allowed the extremists to direct their forces to defeating their rebel adversaries in Aleppo province, and cutting off the regime's lifeline to the southern Aleppo city. But the focus on fighting rebels rather than the regime has led many fighters to question the reasons for fighting "other Muslims". The IS leadership still refers to opposition groups - including al-Nusra Front - as "apostates", while most of its fighters are well aware that it is Bashar al-Assad's forces who are doing most of the killing in Syria. "There's senseless violence which a lot of fighters consider un-Islamic… people didn't join to spend half of their time fighting other opposition groups, they went to Syria to fight Assad and Shia domination of the region," the defence analyst said.

 The economy is in tatters, and recent efforts to introduce a gold currency suggest amateur and impulsive responses to their economic woes. Meanwhile, the health system - which was once referred to by IS idealists as being a mirror of the UK's National Health Service - has collapsed. Ironically, Russia and the regime are also appear to be targeting hospitals in rebel-held territories - making the overall situation for Syrians grim. But the fact that in IS territories public hospitals lie in waste while the group's leadership is treated with relatively high-standards highlights a discrepancy in its claims of moral leadership. It also underlines a very apparent gulf in wealth between the leadership and subjects in their territory, and most Syrians understand clearly that the projection of IS' utopia to the outside world is shrouded with lies. If we imagine the near future, IS will no longer be able to rely on popular support - and without an inexhaustible supply of manpower and money, its project is doomed.

 Even its capable and die-hard supporters have proven unable to defeat experienced opposition groups such as the Kurds and Free Syrian Army that offer more representative leadership and goals. In the end, the fate of IS might be decided by the fact that its population and ranks are voting with their feet and fleeing the territory.'

Friday, 30 October 2015

How to stop the bomb Syria bloc

 The most pro-Assad part of Andrew Murray, Chairman of the Stop the War Coaltion's diatribe, is,
"It is now pretty obvious that bombing by western powers is not going to roll back Islamic State. That could only be done by the forces of strong and sovereign states in Iraq and Syria, able to mobilise support from all sections of the people."
He rolls back from that a little in this,
"Such preconditions only serve to prolong the conflict and to give either government or opposition hope that foreign military and diplomatic support could somehow lead to all-out victory."
There is a clear difference between the estimation of the Russian and US interventions. Although he says,
"All foreign military intervention in Syria should end immediately,"
one is,
"the Anglo-American war front in the Middle East,"
while the other is,
"Our bipartisan armchair strategists are obviously riled by Russia’s escalating military involvement in Syria. But it is a fact."
A couple of lies in series in response to the Cox/Mitchell letter, that Britain has been arming Syrian rebels, and that has escalated the refugee flow. "Of course, if humanitarianism was really a consideration, Britain would have stopped funding and arming the Syrian civil war some time ago. It would be welcoming far more refugees from the conflict zone it has fuelled."

A lie about those wanting to stop Assad and Russia's war on Syria. That they wanted Britain to go to war with Assad in 2013,
"In 2013 they were urging war against the Syrian government over its alleged use of chemical weapons."

Two untruths, that Western funding caused the uprising against Assad to militarise, and that the uprising caused the rise of ISIS,
"The rise of Islamic State to control much of Syria’s territory – a consequence of the civil war fostered by the western powers, amongst others – seemed to offer another excuse for intervention."
The argument against a no fly zone is asinine. Assad is doing the bombing, a no fly zone would stop him.
"The reality of “no fly zones” and “safe havens”, benign as they sound, is regime change. That is the clear aim of the proposal. Assad government forces – or those supporting it – would be the target."

Of course the areas already cleared of régime forces by the moderate opposition would be the major beneficiaries, but that's not even on the radar of someone who knows so little about Syria.
"In Syria today, the winners from a war to set up safe-havens – an operation which would also require the deployment of grounds troops into Syria – would most likely be IS. It would be best placed to expand into many of the areas cleared of regime forces."

People who supported revolutions used to be called socialists, not neo-conservatives. Shame on Andrew Murray for this slander, and that on the Free Syrian Army he claims is only a figment of Washington imagination.
"Such plans fuel the fantasises of neo-conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic who dream of creating a “third force” capable to taking over Syria in opposition both to Assad and to Islamic State."

Too Weak, Too Strong

LRB Cover

 "The Russian air strikes that have been taking place since the end of September are strengthening and raising the morale of the Syrian army."
 That would be the Syrian army that has been retreating across Hama despite the Russian airstrikes. The pro-Assad lies are strong in this one.
 "Literally from the front line."* No, a liar who has embedded himself with Assad's minders in hotels in Damascus, who never sees the destruction Assad does, never talks to the people he's doing it to, and who is quite capable of making up his presence at an incident Brian Williams style.[]
 "It needs partners on the ground who are fighting IS, but its choice is limited because those actually engaged in combat with the Sunni jihadis are largely Shia."
 This is another lie. It is the Free Syrian Army that has been fighting against ISIS in Northern Syria for the last two years.
 "Shia leaders dismiss the idea, much favoured in Washington, that a sizeable moderate, non-sectarian Sunni opposition exists that would be willing to share power in Damascus and Baghdad."
 A series of untruths. The opposition is not just Sunni, but Christian, Alawite and atheistic too. None of them are willing to share power with the torturers and rapists of the Assad régime, but want a democratic pluralist state. The Shia leaders, Iran and its proxies, don't want to share power, they've been pursuing a genocide in Syria precisely against the Sunnis above all.
 "In the swathe of countries most directly involved in the conflict – Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon – there are more than a hundred million Shia, who believe their own existence is threatened if Assad goes down, compared to thirty million Sunnis, who are in a majority only in Syria."
 The figures show what a nonsense the excuse for supporting Assad in his genocide against Sunnis is. Very reminiscent of the Israeli claim that if they stop oppressing the Palestinians the Israelis will all be killed.
 "A few miles further on, in the town of Tal Abyad, which the YPG had captured from IS in June, a woman ran out of her house to wave down the police car I was following to say that she had just seen an IS fighter in black clothes and a beard run through her courtyard. The police said there were still IS men hiding in abandoned Arab houses in the town."
 The allegation that Arab residents are member of ISIS is the justification for ethnic cleansing by the Kurdish forces, as Amnesty has noted. As with Assad, or the Russian bombing that Cockburn laments "has taken attention away" from the failure of the US campaign against ISIS, these war crimes just aren't part of his narrative.
 "Between 2011 and 2013 it was conventional wisdom in the West and much of the Middle East that Assad was going to be overthrown just as Gaddafi has been."
 And it was only massive military assistance from Russia, which had to be bolstered by thousands of troops from Hezbollah, and thousands more from Iran's other proxy militias, that saved it from rebels who couldn't get their hands on anti-aircraft missiles, let alone the tanks and aeroplanes Assad has.
 "In late 2013 and throughout 2014, it was clear that Assad still controlled most populated areas, but then the jihadi advances in northern and eastern Syria in May revived talk of the regime’s crumbling."
 If you read Cockburn through 2013 and 2014, you'll see repeated assertions of the strength of Assad, that he controls all the provincial capitals, that the army is strong, that all communities still supported him. As the régime has continued to hollow out, it is his assessment that has proved to have nothing in it, not that that Assad is a dictator who has relied almost entirely on force rather than consent since 2011, and now is a dead man walking with only a skeleton apparatus of power, who would be gone in five minutes if Iran and Russia left him to it, and will only last five minutes when the more united than ever Syrian rebel forces kick Iran and Russia out of their country.
 "Russian air support won’t be enough to defeat IS and the other al-Qaida-type groups."
 Russian air support isn't going to do anything to defeat ISIS when it is used overwhelmingly against the Free Syrian Army. In fact the Russian bombing of the FSA has enabled ISIS to cut the régime's access to Aleppo, leading to the bizarre situation where the opposition has been asked to open a supply route by aid agencies to the area controlled by the people barrel bombing them. Russia's intervention is a disaster all round, but you'll never discover why from a study of Cockburn on its own.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

I have seen the horrors of Syria. This Friday we can end them

Dr David Nott who worked in Aleppo in Syria during 2014.

 "The West let the best strategy be the enemy of the good in Syria – and now we have seen the enormous price of not intervening, as it fell to Tony Blair to argue this week, in his partial mea culpa for the invasion of Iraq. The UK’s efforts in Syria have only tinkered at the edges of a humanitarian catastrophe. When Assad crossed Barack Obama’s stated red line in his use of chemical weapons in August 2013, the US president stood back and did nothing. All the time, Syria’s people faced slaughter – and now Vladimir Putin has stepped into the vacuum to shore up the faltering regime of the murderous Bashar al-Assad.

 I saw the humanitarian and security situation decline throughout three six-week visits to Syria in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Later, I told of what I saw in interviews: the children blown apart by barrel bombs; the snipers targeting pregnant women.
 An oft-repeated line was that all the anti-government protagonists are equally extreme, equally impossible Western allies. I can say that from my experience that they are not. Towards the end of my time there in 2014, I went to visit a Catholic Church in Aleppo. There, having tea with the priest, were a group of Free Syrian Army fighters, their rifles slung across their chests as they chatted amicably. The Church had been protected by the Free Syrian fighters and the priest respected for the kindness he showed to many sick and dying people. In March this year, I was shocked to hear that this kindly priest had been killed. Not by supposed Islamist rebels intent on destroying all those of other religions; but by a barrel bomb dropped by one of Assad’s helicopters.
 The West has so far abrogated its moral responsibility to the Syrian people and has paid a price not only in the hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees flocking to Europe’s shores but also in Putin’s audacious power play, so that we find ourselves in a situation where Russia, Iran and Hizbollah are leading this brutal dance.
 All the major powers involved are now to meet at a peace conference in Austria. Here’s what they must secure: a safe haven in Syria, probably from Aleppo northwards, which is free from air attacks and allows humanitarian access via corridors which can be policed by the UN or by a western coalition with the Gulf states and Turkey."

Abu Salah: One man's perilous journey from Syria to Europe

 "Please help us! The régime of Bashar al-Assad is killing us. Please! Every day there is blood..." 
 Abu Salah was a blacksmith, who fled after his home town in Homs province, one of the first in Syria to rise up in revolution, was destroyed by the Assad régime. 

'Wonderful' Windsor welcomes Syrian family fleeing war and devastation at home

Muftakher Al Hayik and his wife Lina Alnatour are joined by their children Shahed, Osama and Omar (left to right) as they speak about their journey from Syria to Windsor at their home in Windsor on Tuesday, October 27, 2015.

 'Al Hayik spent almost a month behind bars after he and other lawyers went on strike to protest the widely publicized torture killings of two young children at the hands of government agents. His boys, both university dental program students, spent a similar amount of time being tortured and interrogated after they joined protests sparked by politically active classmates being tossed to their death from university highrises by government thugs.
 But lawyer Al Hayik, 51, his wife Lina Alnatour and their seven children wouldn’t flee their homeland until later, after their homes, their wealth and their hopes had all but vanished.
 After government shelling damaged their villa in southern Syria, they moved to their city apartment in the capital Damascus, which, unfortunately, according to Al Hayik, was in a neighbourhood of 50,000 people targeted and destroyed by the forces of President Bashir al-Assad. They returned to their damaged villa but, by then, what had started as a peaceful “revolution” had morphed into civil war, with militias, radicals, foreign fighters and government troops locked in a battle of attrition with everyone else in their gunsights.'

 It is Assad who arrested and tortured them, it was Assad who flattened the 50,000 homes in their neighbourhood. So it seems to be false editorialising to say that everyone is shooting at them, to claim this is a civil war and not a revolution against Assad's genocide.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Russia Bombs Hospitals. Lefties Shrug

A member of the Syrian community holds aloft a placard displaying a picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a rally in support of refugees that was part of a national campaign in central Sydney, Australia, October 11, 2015. The crowd, estimated at around one thousand people, called for an end to mandatory detention for refugees and for an end to Russia's intervention in Syria.      REUTERS/David Gray - RTS3XB8

 Sam Charles Hamad

 'Nowhere in any of Greenwald’s output will you find actual recognition of the victims of the Russian strikes and the circumstances that led to their deaths.  The mention of Syrian casualties of Russian strikes by Greenwald features only as a means to point out U.S. hypocrisy. 
 And this gets to the heart of the matter—Syrians facing brutality from the Assad regime and Russia can’t feature among the left because they are deemed to be unworthy of support due to their real or imagined proximity to the West.  By some delusional twist, Syrians fighting for liberation are deemed to be the aggressors representing imperialism, while the Assad regime and Russia are seen as being the resistance to such imperialism.  Amidst all the destruction wrought by the Syrian war, one perhaps small though significant casualty is the idea that the left could overcome the contradictions of its own history to reaffirm its founding principles.
 It claims to oppose Islamophobia, yet you can read a wide range of leftist writers invoking visceral appeals to Islamophobia and orientalsm by essentializing the Syrian rebels as “jihadis,” with deliberate obscurity.  It claims to oppose the “war on terror,” yet the Manichean logic of the Bush era is reproduced in support of Russia’s intervention.  It claims to be “anti-imperialist,” yet you have no less a figure as Noam Chomsky so absurdly and pathetically claim that Russia’s intervention in Syria is not “imperialist” since “it’s supporting a government,” while he endorses the conservative “realism” of Patrick Cockburn, whose writing has often come down on the side of the Assad regime. 
 The brutal array of crimes committed by the Assad regime, Iran and Russia against the Syrian people are swept aside in some imagined geopolitical game that leftists think is unfolding. Internationalism is about breaking down the barriers that separate people and uniting struggles around the world—it’s not about constructing these delusional, byzantine buffers that determine which struggles we can and can’t support. 
 If that is indeed to be a feature of the dominant form of leftism in the modern era, one which determines that one can be outraged by an American war crime in Kunduz but not a Russian one in Sarmin—I want no part of it.' 

Monday, 26 October 2015

Syria conflict: FSA rebels reject Russia military help

Free Syrian Army fighters celebrate taking control of the city of Tal al-Zaatar (13 August 2015)

  "Vladimir Putin is assisting a regime that indiscriminately kills their own people," Issam al-Reis said. "How could we trust the Russians' help?"
 Mr Issam said the FSA would continue fighting President Bashar al-Assad, who "was not part of the solution" to ending Syria's civil war. "If the Syrians stood with Assad he would not ask for invaders to come to Syria."
 This must have come as a bit of a shock to the interviewer, Gavin Esler, who only a couple of weeks ago was telling us the FSA didn't really exist.*

Rebel Defiance, Relief as Assad Forces Get Bogged Down

Institute for the Study of War, map of Russian airstrikes in Syria, Sept. 30 - Oct. 14, 2015

 The Russians are burning and flattening everything,” explains Abdul Rahman, a commander with the Ahfad Omer battalion, arguing the scorched-earth tactics are reminiscent of what the Russians did to the Chechen capital Grozny in 1994, reducing it to rubble. “There are 50 or 60 airstrikes a day,” he said.  The difference is the Russians are not bombing a built-up city, but spread-out villages, some the poorest in northern Syria.

“The solution is simple.  It is not complicated.  Assad, his inner circle, the security apparatus and all the intelligence agencies, all have to go,” said 35-year-old Zakaria Malahefji, a former higher education teacher and political officer of the 3,000-strong Fastaqim Kama Umirt.

 Having withstood more than three weeks of Russian bombing and Assad ground assaults, the rebels say they are relieved they have lost little territory, just five villages in the southern Aleppo countryside. “Our fighters are skilled fighting in the towns and all we need are Kalashnikovs,” said Col. Mo-hamed al-Ahmed, spokesman of militia alliance Al-Jabha al-Shamiyya (Shamiya Front). “The Assad regime knows it can’t fight in the city — so it is choosing to fight in the countryside,” added al-Ahmed, a Syrian Air Force pilot defector.

 Months before the Russian intervention, commanders lamented the difficulty in finding new recruits.  That has changed, at least in rural areas.  Now locals are eager to fight, so too are youngsters among the refugee population in neighboring Turkey. “Since the Russians came many people want to fight,” said al-Ahmed, sitting in a bare, dismal office in a ramshackle building adjacent to the wasteland in the Turkish border town of Kilis.  “Before they said they didn’t want to kill fellow Syrians, but now they want to confront the Russians.”

If the opposition is an illusion, then the Syrian army is a myth

 'The FSA was mainly born as part of the Syrian opposition project, which comes under the umbrella of the political coalition council that includes all of Syria’s religious and racial components. Sunnis, Kurds and Christians have served as its chiefs and its leaders include Alawites, Druze, Turkmen and others. However, Assad whom the Russians and the Iranians defend, no longer represents anyone, not even his small Alawite sect upon which he inflicted the biggest massacre against its sons as he forced them to engage in battles during the past four horrific years.

 There are in fact Syrian traffic police in Damascus; however there’s nothing called “the Syrian army” in the sense which the Russians keep mentioning. Even their Iranian allies avoid using the term “Syrian army” as they consider themselves Syria’s armed forces.

 It’s not only the Syrian army which has evaporated. During the past four years of the war, the structure of the security forces’ institutions and intelligence apparatuses, which were once described as among the strongest in the world, have been destroyed. Therefore, the Russians and Iranians must not try and paint a false picture regarding what’s happening in Syria. The truth is no longer a secret due to the several parties fighting there. There is currently no state, no system, no legitimate president, no security forces and no army in Syria.