Saturday, 30 August 2014

A Weary Rebel Retreats to Fight Another Day

 'At dawn on Aug. 21, 2013, the chemical attack struck Moadhamiyeh. Struggling to breathe, Mr. Eid staggered outside, saw a young boy foaming at the mouth, and then passed out. A friend found Mr. Eid among dead bodies; after a shot of atropine, he awoke to an earthshaking bombardment.

 Washing his face as he prepared to rush to the front line, he glimpsed his reflection. He saw eyes filled with an unfamiliar rage, he recalled, “like when Bruce Banner looks in the mirror and sees the Hulk.”

 By the time he reached Beirut, though, rage had transmuted into disillusion. He swiftly set about breaking his promise to the Fourth Division, telling journalists that the government’s truces were far from peace-building compromises, that starving towns had no choice but compliance. But he also recounted the opposition’s mistakes: betting on decisive military help from the West that never came, and underestimating Mr. Assad’s appetite for violence, and the number and tenacity of his supporters.

 Now, in the cafe, he called on fellow activists to be pragmatic, conserve lives, and root out sectarianism and extremism, or risk “destroying what’s left” and “creating another dictatorship.” '

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'Syria Speaks'

The London Review of Books, which published Seymour Hersh's genocide denial over Assad's chemical attacks when reputable news outlets wouldn't touch it, have now reviewed a pro-Syrian revolution collection. It demeans and derides their aspirations. This is denying their voices even as as they are hollowly lauded.
"Most of the more than fifty contributors are outside Syria now; their hope and defiance seem out of date. Yet the book is a valuable reminder that the early protests against Assad were both peaceful and democratic. It also sheds light on the way the protesters’ aspirations were ground into irrelevance."

Friday, 29 August 2014

Image result for Syria Video Analysis: Beginner’s Guide to the Islamic State, the Insurgency, and the Assad Regime

Syria Video Analysis: Beginner’s Guide to the Islamic State, the Insurgency, and the Assad Regime

Scott Lucas
"More people are being introduced to the Syrian conflict by the advances of the Islamic State. Here’s a 7-minute introduction to the jihadists and their relationships with the insurgency and with the Assad regime.
1. The Islamic State is not part of the Syrian insurgency.
2. So who are the insurgency?
3. Where is the Assad regime positioned between the Islamic State and the insurgency?
4. “We have a 3-way fight.”
5. “If you are going to deal with the Syrian crisis, you are going to have to deal with both the Assad regime and the Islamic State.” "

Thursday, 28 August 2014

A US war plane flying over Iraq

Obama's new war in IraqThe first line quoted is an insult the the Free Syrian Army. Cockburn is now promoting an alliance with Assad, and abandoning the real fight with the promise that the masses will rise again isn't much help to Syrians. There are other things wrong both in the sections quoted and in the rest of the article.
'Obama has secured $500 million in funding for what the U.S. calls the moderate opposition to the regime. Assad has responded that any such surveillance and bombing would be looked upon as a declaration of war--in the hopes of pressuring Obama into an alliance against ISIS.
As Independent journalist Patrick Cockburn reports:
"The U.S. has already covertly assisted the Assad government by passing on intelligence about the exact location of jihadi leaders through the BND, the German intelligence service...This may explain why Syrian aircraft and artillery have been able to on occasion been able to target accurately rebel commanders and headquarters."
By opposing intervention, we can provide space for the genuine forces for liberation that we saw emerge in the Arab Spring to regroup and build so they can provide an alternative to sectarian religious forces. Undoubtedly, the masses will rise again, because the counter-revolution offers nothing to their demands for democracy, equality and liberation.'

New U.S. help arrives for Syrian rebels as government, extremists gain“If we have support, there are lots of revolutionaries that would come back.”


Give us guns, not airstrikes, to finish off Islamic State"Last week I was on the front line in northern Aleppo, where fighters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are holding back the forces of Islamic State (formerly Isis). These battles have cost the lives of many brave soldiers but it would be foolish to think that the fight can be conducted from the air, as some in the United States believe."

The issue of Palestine is immensely popular throughout the Middle East, writes Nashashibi [EPA]

A rift with Assad's allies? Think again'The fact is that all three parties need each other too much to risk disagreement over Hamas. Assad owes his very survival to the direct intervention of Hezbollah and Iran. The latter two, increasingly unpopular throughout the region for propping him up, will not want to risk losing one of the only Middle Eastern allies they have left. The strategic choices they have made makes Assad a more important ally to them than Hamas could be.
As such, talk of a rift seems based more on wild optimism than rational analysis. If the killing of more than 170,000 Syrians has done nothing to dent their alliance, the killing of more than 1,000 Palestinians will not either.'
I saw that someone in the UK who styles themselves an anti-fascist activist had posted a statement very similar to that attributed to Hassan Nasrallah here, "for all differences and sensitivities on other issues to be put to one side", and wondered if there was a direct connection.

Military Implications of the Syrian Regime's Defeat in Raqqa
"The most effective way to stop ISIS and then roll it back would be a combined effort involving well-armed and supported Syrian rebel forces and U.S./allied airpower, all working under a coherent long-term strategy and conducting coordinated operations to defeat the group's forces and free areas under its control. Failing that, more limited measures -- such as arming the rebels and using airpower to reduce ISIS forces and capabilities -- would be useful in preventing more dramatic gains in Syria and perhaps rolling back the group's recent progress in northern Aleppo."

Heavy Use of Banned Cluster Bombs Reported in Syria"Although the report did not specify whether government forces or insurgents were using them, munitions experts have said that only the Syrian military has the technical capability."
There's another New York Times report about human rights abuses, with a précis* on the Middle East news page saying each faction is doing it. No, it's the Assad régime and ISIS that systematically carry out crimes against humanity, not the actual rebels, and all the reporting that just tells us how confusing Syria is doesn't help.
“It’s a sign of lawlessness, the use of such arms, and that’s why it’s not surprising the worst place is Syria, because it’s the most lawless conflict on our watch,” he said. “It is a conflict where there are no principles left, no norms left.”
The Syrian people who suffer these crimes still have principles and norms.
* "A United Nations panel reported that brutality in the civil war had increased, as each faction resorted more to massacring and torturing civilians."[…/wo…/middleeast/syria-conflict.html…]

Frontline Isis: Ordinary Syrians Loathe IS - but are Powerless to Stop Them

Isis video Assad soldiers

 "When Raqqa was liberated by the Free Syrian Army, we experienced three months of genuine freedom. But after the entry of the militants, things became awful; IS assumed the role previously performed by the regime, but this time in the name of religion, or what they see as religion. Isis swiftly began to arrest the majority of those who participated in the revolution, either members of the FSA or ordinary civilians, as well as members of the media.

 I recently spoke to a 26-year-old living in Raqqa, Hazam Hassan, who told me that IS and
Assad are two sides of the same terrorist coin, and there is no difference between what they do."

Syrian rebels announce seizure of Golan Heights border crossing

'The FSA said its forces weren't looking to push Assad's troops from all of Quneitra, where one border post remains under government control. It also said opposition forces posed no threat to Israel.
"Our aim isn't Israel right now, and we in the FSA haven't targeted Israeli lands," said spokesman Kenan Mohammed, adding that the rebels' focus is on Assad and the extremist Islamic State [IS] group. "The matter of Israel - it's not for now." '
Everywhere I'd seen this reported up to now followed the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in saying it was Jabhat al-Nusra and other rebel groups that had seized the crossing. Or just Jabhat al-Nusra. Thus we see the Cockburn line that there are no moderate rebels fulfilled by writing them out of the story. And in the first line quoted, I think that should actually be that the FSA are looking to push Assad's troops from all of Quneitra. As in Salameh Kaileh's account, "the Assad regime has reached an unprecedented degree of weakness and disintegration." 

Book Cover
The Syrian Revolution: A Marxist account 
Salameh Kaileh: "Moreover, the bloody violence which was unleashed by the Assad regime led to the transformation of demonstrators into armed strugglers. Of course, the Assad regime benefitted immensely from this to assert that the demonstrators were fundamentalist terrorists."
Only if they are allowed to present this perspective unchallenged, which has been the case with much of the media and especially of much of the Left. I think that the Gulf involvement has made it harder to convince Alawites and Christians that Assad isn't protecting them, but I see that as more of a symptom of the underlying problem that is Assad's rule than at the core of the problem. There are much worse analyses purporting to be Marxist, and this may contain a lot of insight.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

“Painting on death” in war-torn Syria

 "Most of the shells and missiles that I use are from the government’s air raids and heavy guns. I also use defective pieces from the ammunition factories that belong to the Free Syrian Army (the rebels). I wanted to show that, in my city and in Syria in general, there are artists as well as warriors. Each fights in his own way against the regime."
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‘Assad Policies Aided Rise of Islamic State Militant Group’
It should be noted that the FSA took back three villages from ISIS near Aleppo last night. People defending a revolution in their homeland can do amazing things sometimes.
"In short, through its allergy to trying to support a force in Syria opposed to both the Islamic State and the regime, the Obama administration managed to settle on the one policy that both the terror group and Assad can agree on — namely, leaving the field to them."
Syrian student, Sleman Shwaish

Huddersfield University student Sleman Shwaish talks about escaping from Syria

“I don’t like to involve myself in politics because of my experiences in Syria but I’m so concerned about what’s going on there and in Iraq, especially now that ISIS are moving close to my home city of Qamishli and the Assad regime has still not been overthrown.”

Monday, 25 August 2014

Obama Is Just 'Tickling' ISIS, Syrian Rebels Say

"Early this year, when ISIS first threatened to take over northern Aleppo, the international powers through the coordination center in Turkey sent small arms and ammunition to the FSA, which pushed back ISIS. The FSA even liberated an ISIS prison inside the children’s hospital and freed 30 civilians, including two Syrian journalists.
But when the FSA then took the fight to other parts of Syria, including near Raqqa, where ISIS has its stronghold, the flow of military aid to the moderate rebels just stopped. This time around, small arms won’t be enough: ISIS now has heavy weapons and heavy armor. To be sure, the FSA has been asking for advanced weapons for years to fight the regime, but now its leaders say they need them to combat ISIS, as well.
“The FSA has been fighting against ISIS since the beginning of this year,” said Al Marie. “We continue to fight them. The problem now is that they came back to the fight with sophisticated weapons, weapons they stole from the Americans. We are losing our brave fighters on the front against ISIS. We’re just asking the West for some cooperation, some support to be able to fight these monsters and free our lands with our hands. That’s what we want.”
While Obama administration officials often talk about the lack of good intelligence about ISIS, the FSA says it has lots of information about ISIS, including about its foreign fighters and foreign hostages. The United States didn’t consult with the FSA before launching the unsuccessful July raid to free Foley. But if the Obama administration wants to find the other Western hostages, it might consider working with the FSA, Al Marie said. For example, he added, many highly valuable Western hostages are held in an ISIS prison beneath a dam near Raqqa.
“Working with the FSA is always better. We are Syrians, we know how and where and when to move in this country,” said Al Marie. “We live on this land. We know it. We know its geography, its tribes, its people. We are the most capable people to identify where the foreign fighters are. But we need support.” "
obama head down cartoon

Obama has ignored Syria for too long: it's the rise of Isis, stupid – now helpI'd go with the Manpads to the rebels, as the effective way to stop Assad's air attacks. Syrians would much rather use them for that than for some undefined nefarious terrorist attack. But these are at least practical suggestions.
"The only way for Obama to stop doing stupid stuff with his foreign policy is to arm moderate rebels in Syria, to bomb Isis bases in both Syria and Iraq and to finally impose a no-fly zone on the Assad regime. This combination of tactics could allow the Syrian opposition – which has thus far been unable to govern the liberated areas due to Assad’s use of aerial strikes, including barrel bombs, scud missiles, and, on occasion, chemical weapons and poison gas – to move in and work with the local councils to begin returning the basic services to the local communities, bringing a measure of relief to the local civilian population. Imposing a no-fly zone also avoids having to supply advanced weapons to rebels, including TOW missiles and MANPADs, thus minimizing the risk of having them end up in the wrong hands."

Bashar al-Assad

How Assad helped the rise of his 'foe' Isil

"By 2013, Isil had managed to capture oilfields in eastern Syria. But to profit from these assets, they needed to find a customer for the oil. Mr Assad's regime stepped in and began buying oil from Isil, thereby helping to fund the movement, according to Western and Middle Eastern governments.
Having provided Isil with talented commanders, courtesy of his prison amnesties, and filled its coffers with oil money, Mr Assad then chose to focus his military campaign on the non-Islamist rebels. Every town and suburb held by the Free Syrian Army was relentlessly pounded from the air and ground. A year ago, the regime even used poison gas against insurgent strongholds in Damascus.
Like many Middle Eastern dictators before him, Mr Assad hopes that the West will accept him as the only available bulwark against the very fanatics who he has helped and protected. Put bluntly, he wants to be an arsonist and a fireman at the same time. The question is whether he will get away with this time-honoured ploy."

Peering into the faultlines: a response to 'New faultlines in the Middle East: ISIS in a regional context'

 Sam Charles Hamad:

 "The Assad regime isn’t waging a war against ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’, it is carrying out a genocidal war to maintain its own power and destroy those forces who have risen up against it – this is the point that should never be forgotten. Not only has the Assad regime all too often tactically ignored Daesh in favour of bombarding rebel-held territories, but it is also the single greatest cause of it maintaining a presence in Syria. Those who think that they can choose the Assad regime over Daesh, one brutal fascism over another, on the basis that there are no ‘moderate rebels’, as they’d have it, will actually be endorsing an argument that would see those real forces who are opposed to both Daesh and the far greater evil of Assad crushed once and for all.

 The logic of Daesh is provided most forcefully by the continued sectarian slaughter being carried out by the Assad regime and its allies, while the logic of the Assad regime, with its appropriation of the ‘war on terror’, is provided most forcefully by Daesh. There is a third alternative, but it is delicate and precious. It is this alternative that, as I write this, faces the twin evils of Daesh and the Assad regime marching towards it in Free Aleppo; that faces bombardment, beheading and besiegement on an unprecedented scale. Yet still it fights on, despite being, as Barack Obama rather sneeringly put it when rubbishing the claims that his administration made a mistake by not providing more arms to the rebels, made up of ‘farmers and pharmacists’. It’s this alternative that risks everything to rise up against Daesh in Deir ez-Zor, while also resisting a regime that is doing everything in its power to brutalise and exterminate them. The people of Syria and their revolution against Baathist tyranny and now also the theocratic tyranny of Daesh is still alive. This is the force that demands our unconditional support and solidarity, however much it’s worth, now more than ever."


 "It's hard to imagine any scenario where more direct U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict, aimed at toppling Assad, would not somehow also play into the hands of the Islamist factions committed to the struggle."

 Not surprising the writer of this Washington Post blog post can't imagine the obvious when his second paragraph starts, "Now, the U.S. is contemplating extending airstrikes on Islamic State militants operating in Iraq in Syria — fighters belonging to a terrorist organization that is leading the war against Assad."
A fighter from Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) stands near burning confiscated cigarettes in the city of Raqqa

Inside an Isil town: 'Raqqa is being slaughtered silently'

"The people of Raqqa are tired: the regime, the Free Syrian Army rebels and the international community has given up on us."
The FSA had to pull out because they didn't have the ammunition to continue.
Theo Curtis is seen in an undated video

US journalist Theo Curtis released from Syria captivity

The BBC's diplomatic correspondent was just asked on the world service what the difference is between la-Nusra and ISIS. He could have replied simply that al-Nusra fights against Assad, and ISIS doesn't if it can possibly avoid it. He also described Qatar as Nusra's sponsor. That's more plausible than the stuff about them backing ISIS, but still, I don't believe they are have simultaneously been running al-Jazeera and a group that kidnaps jounalists. Clearly they have contacts.
As I suggested a week or two ago, al-Nusra may be feeling the need to send the Americans the message, "we are not the terrorists you are looking for." Good. Support for the FSA, who don't kidnap journalists at all, would be better.

Stop benefits of IS fighter families

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 This isn't going to help. We should do something about Syria, notably arming the Free Syrian Army would help, that doesn't mean we should do just anything. See also Boris Johnson's call* for anyone travelling to Syria to be presumed guilty of terrorism. That'll hit any aid convoy that isn't a front for MI6, or anyone helping out the FSA. You can already be prosecuted as a terrorist if you go to help the Free Syrian Army, not if you go to fight for Assad.

 I could probably explain in detail why it isn't a good idea to make poor people destitute as a means of convincing their sons that Western ideology beats the ISIS crap, but it shouldn't be necessary for anyone who doesn't live in a world where benefit cuts are a go-to solution for social problems. But there are a lot of other claims about Syria which seem like they should require as little explanation, but still do.


Candid Discussions:
 Ali Khedery on Iraq and Syria

I was reading a very bad article by Jon Wilson* on Labour List, when I thought Ali Khedery puts many of the points much better, even if I don't view things from the official American perspective.
"It’s said that in fact Assad is one of ISIS’s biggest financiers because he is one of ISIS’s customers for the crude oil that it sells after taking over many of Syria’s oil fields and now some of Iraq’s. So it’s very counterintuitive. And let’s not forget that it was Assad’s military intelligence services throughout the American occupation of Iraq that actively recruited, financed, trained, and armed al-Qaeda. They trained them in Syria, they recruited them from across the Arab world and sent them to Iraq for suicide bombing missions at a rate of 50 to 100 a month. We know this for an absolute fact.
The whole point of this campaign by Assad, Hezbollah, and the Iran axis was to bleed, exhaust, and defeat America; similar to how the U.S., the Saudis, and others sought to support the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan to defeat the Soviet Union, ultimately leading to the Soviet Union’s collapse and its humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan. So they wanted to replicate the same model with the United States in Iraq. And frankly, they succeeded. Thousands of Americans were killed and wounded by al-Qaeda and thousands more were killed and wounded by the Iranian-backed Shia militias. So the United States and the Iraqi Security Forces were squeezed by Assad-trained al-Qaeda elements in the west and Iranian-backed Shia militias in the east. Although no one will admit this in Washington, we did withdraw from Iraq in humiliation to the extent that the Iranians dictated that outcome to Maliki, and then Iran was able to fill that vacuum."
To four paragraphs by Jon Wilson. First:
"Iraq’s present political crisis now is a consequence of the 2003 occupation. War created chaos, and there was no effort to build a stable society afterwards. As LSE Professor Toby Dodge’s new book shows, the west was more interested in guaranteeing its own security rather than building democracy or peace. Nouri al-Maliki’s security state became increasingly absent from ordinary peoples’ lives. Understandably, they turned to whatever groups of armed men look best placed to defend their interests. The rise of Islamic State and sectarianism were the consequence."
Too simplistic. It isn't the occupation that has created the crisis, but the choice after Iraq had been messed up to leave it in the hands of Maliki and his Iranian backers, whose anti-Sunni policies have fed ISIS. That doesn't mean that war with Iran is the answer, but neither is excusing it for the mass murder it has conducted in Syria, and thinking a joint effort would be the best way to go the bring Middle East unity.
"We can, of course, offer small acts of assistance by feeding starving people on mountains. But we – particularly on the left – need to stop using the Middle East as a vehicle for our urge to be righteous or tough, to prove to ourselves we’re good and strong."
Speak for yourself mate. I'd much rather be right than righteous. This is a myth built up by those wanting to blame American warmongering for Assad's genocide in Syria, that the only alternative to their passivity is demanding macho bombing action from the heirs of Tony Blair.
"Instead, we need to back organisations which get people together to help them run their own lives – trade unions, anti-corruption campaigns, cross-sectarian parties – just as we would do here."
How do you do that in Syria when Assad kills all such people? Why when all such people have been under threat, have their defenders been cast as Western proxies or Saudi stooges? Why are any foreign efforts to support such NGOs in Syria cast as part of an American régime change plot?
I saw someone suggest in a Guardian thread we should concentrate on providing humanitarian aid, like water supplies. Everyone is easier to deal with if they've got enough water. And how do you stop Assad or ISIS coming and stealing it all and killing the intended recipients? By providing the FSA with weapons, probably not so well by US bombing, certainly not by saying the important thing is to worry about UK/US bombing.
"But above all, we must recognise we have little power to make a difference in the long term. We need to stop imagining that Iraq will go to hell unless we help, and be far more optimistic about the capacity of Iraqis to defeat Islamic State, and rebuild their own society."
Here there is a dishonest vagary of terminology. 'Help' here means bombing, rather than providing arms, but it left to cover that too. 'Be far more optimistic about the capacity of Iraqis' wouldn't seem to exclude sending arms to Iraq. So Jon Wilson is have his cake and eating it, any intervention that goes wrong proves his point, but if they get massacred it isn't his fault.