Friday, 29 April 2016

Patients and doctors killed in Syria hospital airstrike

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 Rageh Omaar: 'Whatever remained of Syria's tenuous ceasefire, that came crashing down in the city of Aleppo today, buried along with at least fourteen people under rubble, ash and smoke. Even in streets already used to five years of unrelenting bombardment, there was desperation and anguish after the attack by Syrian government planes.

 As though the city's anguish wasn't enough, Aleppo's traumatised children have now had their last medical lifeline cut. All because of the death of this man, Muhammad Waseem Moaz; born, bred and educated at medical school in Aleppo, was the last paediatric doctor for the whole of Aleppo. All other paediatricians have either fled or been killed.

 Dr. David Nott, a trauma surgeon in a major London hospital, has volunteered in Syria, working in Aleppo in 2014. He knew Dr. Moaz.

 "If you take out the only paediatrician that's going to be able to look after children, the 200,000 children that are left in Aleppo will not get any medical treatment at all. Another year from now, perhaps there won't be any doctors left there, at all."

 This is the remains of the al-Quds hospital where Dr. Moaz worked. The medical supply stores and the treatment rooms left in utter ruin. Human rights groups have already accused the Assad government of directly targetting medical facilities. The UN says this conflict now kills a Syrian civilian every 23 minutes, and wounds one every 13.

 "The last child doctor in Eastern Aleppo was killed," said Jan Egelund, chairman of the UN humanitarian taskforce in Syria, "Hospitals have been bombed. What we basically see is that while people are bleeding, the health workers are unable to do their work."

 The targetting of doctors and hospitals is a grim weapon of war in Syria. The aim - to make civilians flee whole areas, and with over two million Syrians as refugees in the region, it's a weapon that's working.'


Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Syria’s saving will be through its women


 The Syrian mother is resilient and deeply loves her children — but not at the price of losing her dignity and that of her family,” Nadia Alawa, president and executive director of NuDay Syria, a humanitarian relief nongovernmental organization focused on empowerment through stability efforts for women and families, explained. “It has been very humbling to be able to help and provide relief to mothers who stand by their children and their right to live and believe in freedom.”

 One particular case study demonstrates just how resilient Syrian mothers are. NuDay Syria’s Outreach and Empowerment Center in the Turkish city of Antakya providesrefugee mothers, who may have lost everything except their pride, a venue to earn money on their own and learn skills, gain independence and renew their self-esteem. The center is also a school for refugee children, and NuDay Syria is raising funds to expand their educational endeavors at an additional location.

 “What makes our center run so smoothly is the fact that it is run by a mother who herself was an active participant of humanitarian efforts inside Syria. This woman is also a grandmother and is now the guardian of her orphaned grandson,” Alawa shared. (Her name is not being shared out of concern for her security.) The two narrowly escaped getting caught by the Syrian regime as they fled the country, making their way across a river to Turkey in a barrel.

 “Refugees do not leave their home country unless they really have to. In the case of Syrians, often not until their homes have gotten bombed, and the regime is actively targeting them. In the past two years, Syrian mothers are now also escaping ISIS, so they are running from two evils,” Alawa said.

 It’s easy to generalize the Syrian refugee crisis as being one and the same as other crises, but the staggering death toll, widespread displacement and mounting number of women who have been left in charge of their families’ survival have made it another story entirely. Historically, Syrian women were creative and economical when it came to running their households, so for NuDay Syria’s efforts, Alawa found it integral to bypass the humanitarian works typical of other relief organizations. Rather than focusing on short-term emergency initiatives, NuDay Syria has discovered first-hand that there is more that can be done with an expanded focus on self-esteem and sustainability.

 “Ensuring that [Syrian women] became empowered instead of victimized further by both the poverty and aid processes meant consequently that the resources would be used optimally and with a long-term outcome,” Alawa explained.

 The organization works in a besieged area near Damascus, Syria, with a mother-activist on the Syrian regime’s Most Wanted list. (Her name is also not being cited for her security.) Rather than standing back and disempowering herself — and in effect, those around her — she’s taken charge leading humanitarian efforts in an area with “several hundred widowed mothers and their orphans,” Alawa said. “We work together to ensure these families get food. Getting caught would likely mean torture until death. It is for mothers like this activist and those that she helps that inspire and drive me to keep going and to keep working towards being able to help as much as possible.”

 “These mothers want the same things we all want for our children: Freedom, happiness and choices in life. Their wants are so simple, yet we complicate them by hatred, power and greed — so much so that we forget who the victims really are.” '

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Who Knows Where The Time Goes?

 President Obama: "It would be a mistake for the United States, or Great Britain, or a combination of Western countries to send in ground troops and overthrow the Assad regime. But I do believe that we can apply international pressure to all the parties, including Russia, and Iran, who are essentially propping up Assad; as well as those moderate opposition that exist and may be fighting inside of Syria, to sit down at the table and try to broker a transition."

 It's a straw man. Nobody asked President Obama to send in ground troops to overthrow Assad. The only variation he allows for in this schema is that other countries might also invade. There are other options. In his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg¹ he mentions that John Kerry asked for missiles to be fired at specific régime targets. Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic nomination to be the next president has come out in favour of a no fly zone, while Bernie Sanders is opposed. He could have called for the Syrian National Coalition to be recognised as the legitimate government. He could have supported the establishment of the FSA as the national army. He could have exerted diplomatic pressure on Iran and Russia to give up support for Assad and his régime, and pressured them to allow an immediate transition to a democratic and accountable government.

 Instead he did none of those things. He recognised the SNC as the "legitimate opposition", allowing the US to pretend to be a friend and keep its leaders beholden to the West. He sent the CIA to Turkey's borders to act as gatekeepers to ensure that weapons that might stop Assad's massacres like anti-aircraft missiles were kept out, and the flow could be shut off if it looked like the rebels were advancing too fast. This isn't an inevitable policy for the US, but it is one that the dead weight of their previous choices has tied this administration to.

 Russia and Iran are propping up Assad. No kidding! That the President is forced to even mention that now is a sign of the reality of their complicity in the genocide forcing its way even into his twisted narrative. Where the US has uttered ritual denunciations of the Assad régime, it has been muted about those who have enabled it. There are sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine. There are none such when it comes to Syria.

 There is no pressure on them, other than to get Assad to show up at Geneva. If you want to know why the peace talks are a joke, ask why the United States expects the Russians to give up Assad, let alone the régime, when there is no downside to doing so.

 And so to the moderate opposition. Who may be fighting inside of Syria. Not who are fighting against Assad, not who are fighting against Assad and ISIS, not who are the only line of defence against his depredations (other than the Islamists who are also fighting Assad and ISIS). Because that would be to give the game away, that there is an alternative to a US invasion as a way to stop the bloodshed. To maintain the illusion that there is no alternative to the status quo the victims of this war have to be rendered as unpersons.

 And what sort of pressure is the US going to exert on them, to force them to talks? To not make precondtions that Assad must leave, so that Iran and Russia can happily keep him in place, perhaps replacing him if he becomes inconvenient, but maintaining the core of the régime so they can retain their influence. All this talk of a transition is a con, designed to make it look like a game of musical chairs will bring peace. In reality the opposition knows that saying Assad doesn't have to go now means there will be no change, no democracy, no justice, no end to the rape and torture. The US administration believes, or purports to believe, that those are only functions of the war situation, Syrians know that the régime will not go back, cannot go back, to operating any other way. The US won't even support for the opposition's minimal basic demands, that prisoners be released, that bombing, starvation and torture stop.

 Just before that passage, from the full interview²:

 "Syria has been a heartbreaking situation of enormous complexity, and I don't think there are any simple solutions to Syria, and those who pretend that there are, probably haven't been paying attention to a lot of the details."

 Hypocrite. The man who can't tell us if the moderate opposition are fighting in Syria for sure, let alone who they are fighting against, lectures unnamed critics with undescribed solutions that they haven't been paying attention. Once again the claim of complexity is a charm to enable the avoidance of the elephant in the room. And then afterwards:

 "We continue to strike ISIL targets in Raqqa. There is going to be a military component to this, even as we try to bring an end to the civil war. In order to solve the long-term problems in Syria, a military solution alone, and certainly us deploying ground troops, is not going to bring that about."

 The incoherence should be clear. There is only a military solution being offered to deal with one symptom of the problem. While he casts this as a civil war, not a revolution against genocide, he can only continue to be seen to enable the Assad narrative that this is all about a struggle against terrorism, and there are no fundamental changes needed to bring about peace.

 Responding to the suggestion that the lack of assertive response or engagement by the US has helped the fuel the migration crisis:

 "You can't have it both ways. You can't say, 'We don't want to do anything in Syria,' our parliaments won't ratify any actions in Syria, but we do want the United States to do something about it."

 This is not a fair or true argument. The British parliament did agree last year to take action in Syria, but only against ISIS, the way President Obama likes it. When he and David Cameron presented proposals for action in 2013, they kept the options deliberately vague, enabling opponents to make it look as if they were starting another war. Even going to the legislatures, when they feel no need for other military operations, were a sign they didn't want the votes to go in favour of action, so that they could subsequently use them as an excuse for their inaction, as President Obama does here. None of the people who were protesting against the proposal for airstrikes are asking the US to sort things out, nobody is asking for what the President claims is the only interventionist course of action open to him.

 Meanwhile, the spokesman for the anti-ISIS coalition, Colonel Steve Warren, has offered implicit support to a Russian assault on Aleppo by saying³ it is mostly held by al-Nusra, the al-Qaida affiliate, which the US also likes to bomb, because its counter-terrorism focus makes them worse villains than the murderers of hundreds of thousands. And the White Helmets said of Friday:

 "Today has been the worst day in Syria for over a year. Attacks are everywhere….Tracking attacks in Aleppo, Idlib, Homs and Damascus. Furious intensity. Teams report streets littered with bodies….We return to work with sadness and heavy hearts."

 As the opposition said⁵ in suspending cooperation with the talks in Geneva:

 "For two years, Mr de Mistura was appointed in his task as a U.N. envoy and during this period the killing was increased or doubled in Syria and also the number of villages and areas that were under siege also increased where is Mr De Mistura and his team.

 We put our participation in the negotiations on hold to respect the Syrian blood that is shed under strike from the regime and its allies and to respect the Syrians who are killed of hunger following the siege and to respect Syrians who are killed under torture."

 President Obama says in the BBC interview:

 "Whether we like it or not, we live in an interconnected world...It would be tempting for a lot of people to believe we can pull up the drawbridge...It requires us to build international institutions, and support regional and international structures...In the absence of such cooperation, we won't solve these problems. That's true in Syria."

 Not all of us have castles, like his friends in the royal family, to pull up the drawbridge to. The only way this is true in Syria is if you think of Iran and Russia as partners whose sphere of influence needs to be respected, and ignore the demand of Syrians for sovereignty over their own country.

 He says of Libya:

 "I continue to believe that had we stood by passively, that Gadaffi would have killed enormous numbers of his own people. Libya would be embroiled in a continuing war, that would have been even more disruptive and damaging."

 That's what he's done in Syria, in spades, and no amount of reframing of the narrative will erase that.



Janine di Giovanni: The Morning They Came For Us

Free Syrian Army protesters marching against President Bashar Al-Assad in November 2012. Picture: Matthew VanDyke / Aletheia Films

 " 'I lay there hiding my face as they kicked and thought: “They are using my body to practise their judo moves.”

 And the entire time they were beating me, they kept saying: “You want freedom? Here’s your freedom!” Every time they said freedom, they kicked or punched harder. Then suddenly the mood changed. It got darker. They started saying if I did not talk, they would rape me.'

 By early 2012, reports began emerging of mass rape in Syria, they seem to be perpetrated predominantly by President Bashar al-Assad’s men, largely paramilitary agents known as Shabiha, or ‘ghosts’.

 Although Assad’s own government troops were not always the perpetrators, the Shabiha did most of the dirty work when it came to sexual violence. Their tactics were largely to incite fear within communities — to enter towns or villages after the government troops had been fighting nearby, and spread the word that they would rape the women — daughters, mothers, cousins and nieces. Frightened, people would run, leaving scorched earth behind. It’s a convenient way to ethnically cleanse an entire region.

 Sexual violence was not reported to be only against women either. There are many accounts of male rape, particularly in detention. Although prisons and detention centres were usually the most susceptible places for the crime to occur, it happened at checkpoints and when houses were being ‘cleansed’ as well.
 The danger of such confessions is they could not be verified as not having been given under great duress, but the testimony given by a captured Shabiha is still chilling documentation.

 Question: How long have you been with the security forces?
 Response: Since the beginning of the revolution.
 Question: What is your aim?
 Response: To quash the revolution.

 Question: Do you go out to carry out raids?

 Response: Indeed. We enter the houses to search. If there are men we push them out of the houses for a few hours. We take all the money and jewels we find. And if there are women, we rape them.
 Question: How many women did you rape?
 Response: Seven cases of rape.
 Question: Seven?
 Response: Indeed.
 Question: Where did these rapes happen?
 Response: Some at the village Al Fawl. First cases at the school, we raped them for six continuous hours. Then we entered another house as security forces on the ground that there are terrorists inside. We entered the house, we have tied the man, stolen jewels and money, and we raped women. One of them is from Knissat Bani Az. And we were four to rape her (me and three shabiha) and she committed suicide following her rape. The other case is a girl, we entered to search her house as security forces and we have stolen money and raped her. And there is another rape in Damascus. We entered her house on the ground we are security forces elements. We entered the house and raped the girl.


 A small, dark cell became Nada’s home for eight months.
 Nada’s cell was not even big enough for her already small frame to stretch out in; she remained curled up. The jeans she wore throughout the entire ordeal are still creased in the areas of her body which she was unable to move.
 Other men and women were kept in the cells next to her own. She did not know who they were, but they too would scream out, crying, pleading for mercy, for an end to the torture. Some cried for their mothers.
 “This was part of my torture,” she says.” To hear other people begging, and to know they were coming for me next. When they would stop in front of my door and turn the key — my heart would stop.”
 When she asked for water, they would bring a male prisoner, make him urinate into a bottle, and try to force her to drink it. When she spat it out, they would throw it back in her face. The male prisoner, equally humiliated, would avoid her eyes.
 “I remember every single one of their faces,” she says bitterly of her tormentors, of that memory. “I will look for them. I AM looking for them.”
 One day, when she was not telling them what they wanted to hear, they brought her to an all-male cell where the prisoners were in their underwear.
 “I am a conservative Muslim woman, I thought I was being given to these men for them to rape me,” she said. “And so I started screaming. I think I screamed for three hours. Until my throat was stripped raw. They wanted to break me. And they did. Finally, I said, ‘Okay, I will tell you the truth’.”
 She said she talked. She told them things. But what she told them was not enough. After several hours, they moved her — the first of many moves — and brought her to a place that she calls “the horror room”. The room was only as wide as “a man’s body”. They tied her hands to an iron bar behind her back.
 Then a man entered with a whip. “Every time I said something he did not like,” she says, beginning to break into sobs, “he whipped me.”
 Her bloodied and bruised body was then handed over to another interrogator, who was told, “Okay, now really take care of her.”
 “Now the real beatings began,” she says sombrely, “and the terrible things.”
 When we first met, she cowered when I touched her hand in greeting. She seemed broken, vulnerable. She would not use the word rape. She told her story in staccato. But after a while of sitting quietly, her face changed into a myriad of emotions — sadness, pain, then the heavy flood of memory, and finally revulsion. She told of the day they brought in a male prisoner and forced her to watch him being sodomised. As she talks, her voice deadened, she opens and closes her hand mechanically, clutching at the straps of her backpack. She starts to cry. It very quickly turns to a raw sobbing.
 “The things I saw ... the things I saw ...” she spits out.
 “It is unbearable to explain what I saw ... I cannot forget … I saw ... another prisoner being raped ... a man being raped. I heard it ... I saw it ... Do you know what it’s like to hear a man cry?”
 “I changed a lot when I was in prison,” she says quietly.
 Then she smiles. “But you know, even there, I was the revolutionary.”
 In between beatings and interrogation sessions, she confronted her jailers. She chastised them for small things, for prisoners’ rights. It gave her a feeling of having some control.
 “I made them get plates for the other prisoners!” she says proudly. “I made them realise we are not just dogs to be kicked and used, but people. I made them put plastic over the broken windows.” She looks faintly triumphant. “Before we had nothing, then we got plates!”
 Small victories for a broken spirit."

Thursday, 21 April 2016


 'Sami went to the streets with hundreds of thousands of other Syrians. As the demonstrations surged, so did the casualties, and Sami and others stood daily against the regime knowing they could be the next in line when the military opened fire.
 “They started to have these big demonstrations inside Damasus, in Midan.” Sami says, “And we had many in Qudsayya. Those were the really hard ones, you know? You had to run a lot, there were a lot of bullets. Sometimes you had to carry people who got shot and you put them in a car, you didn’t even know who is in the car. The car would drop them off before the hospital so the driver would not be taken by secret police. Eventually, we had hospitals that we made in safe houses in each neighborhood, so the injured would not be taken away.”
 At one point, Sami tells me, Syrian forces went house to house in Qudsayya over a two-day period and rounded up 120 people, half of whom were killed under torture. It was normal to hear of another friend or neighbor who had been arrested, beaten, or disappeared. This climate took Sami and Tariq into 2012, when a lot of people started picking up guns to fight against the regime.
 Something struck me almost immediately about these two men; both broadcast something like hope. As we talked further, I realized it was something deeper than that; pride. A pride that I have never experienced. When they speak about their journey to Europe and of their brushes with death, they do so knowing that they stood on the right side of history, that they did exactly what they would want themselves or anyone to do in their situation; they stood and pushed forward when the Arab world was trying to rid itself of the regimes and dogmatic political doctrines that oversaw the repression of their generation.
 Though they carry trauma and scars from Syria, and while their families and friends are scattered, dead, or in prison, neither regret their role in the Syrian revolution.  But Sami and Tariq have hope as well, a hope in knowing that perhaps the revolt in Syria will be a building block toward some better future. It had to happen, they stress, and once it had started, they had to push it as far as they could.
 Such hope does not come from blind faith, but from knowing that something could work, from a sense of potential and possibility. That is what Tunisia and Egypt taught the world in late 2010 and early 2011, and it’s what drove people like Sami and Tariq to the streets of Damascus a month later. They live now knowing that they were among the millions who tried.
 Things don’t always look the way you think they will, the three of us agree, rolling cigarettes in a smoke-filled anarchist bar in central Amsterdam. When the revolution began, there was no turning back. And though they were defeated in the streets, disappeared in prisons, and driven out of the country, it wasn’t without reason.
  “There’s a difference between losing and failing,” Tariq says.'

WNYC - Syrian Voices

 Robin Yassin-Kassab:

 "The Assad régime would have gone in 2013 if the Iranian military hadn't come in to rescue him, and then he would have gone by the end of 2015, even with that help, if Russia hadn't come in to rescue him. So Putin has a big influence. He's saved the régime, he seems to have kind of frozen the battle lines for now. We're not going into this in a good way. The opposition negotiations committee is threatening to withdraw from the negotiations because none of their minimal demands have been met, which include an end to the bombing, an end to the starvation sieges which a million people are suffering from, and the release of political prisoners. John Kerry is threatening to blame the opposition committee if it doesn't work out, as usual, but of course they're much more beholden to the Syrians on the ground than to a United States that hasn't helped them.

 There is indeed a renewed concern about human rights. The people on the ground are demanding that they get more than this reduced level of hostilities. There's been a reduction in bombing, which has been very welcome. You've seen the civil activists go back on to the streets. Women and men returning to the streets, calling for the original aims of the revolution, waving the revolutionary flag, protesting against the foreign jihadist groups which have jumped in as well as the Assad régime. The people on the ground after five years of this terror, and the scorched earth policy the régime has unleashed against them, are expecting a lot more than they're getting at the moment. So unless the people on the ground see more, I don't think this process is going to go very far."

 Leila Al-Shami:

"I was working there as a human rights activist prior to the revolution, during the time of the Damascus Spring, which was a time of hope for political change in Syria. People were starting to ask for political reforms. They were starting to ask for the release of political prisoners, more political pluralism, and an end to emergency law, which was the law really used to crack down on political dissent. So it was work defending political prisoners, because that movement was ruthlessly suppressed.

 Assad certainly had a very populist rhetoric, as an anti-imperialist resistance régime, but his rhetoric didn't match reality. Because ostensibly emergency law was in place because of the war with Israel - that was the justification for it - but it was the law that was really used to suppress political dissent. Torture was very widespread prior to the revolution, and since the revolution occurred we've seen torture being practised on an industrial scale.

 Assad was a partner in the War on Terror. There was an illegal rendition programme, where people were rendered by the US to Syria for torture by proxy. A very famous case is that of the Canadian citizen Maher Arar, who was arrested at JFK airport, deported by the Americans, by the CIA, to Syria, where he was held in detention and tortured for over a year on suspicion of being a terrorist; in fact he was completely innocent."

 Robin Yassin-Kassab:

"The Ba'ath Party came to power in both Syria and Iraq in 1963, and then in both countries it changed from being a supposedly socialist nationalist movement, into really a vehicle for the power of dictators, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and Hafez al-Assad, the father of Bashar, in Syria. He came to power in 1970, and he established a totalitarian dictatorship, which very quickly went far away from the socialist origins. It was really a vehicle for his personal power. It was in some ways secular, but it was also very sectarian, one sectarian community was vastly over-represented in the army and the security forces which really run the country. By the time Bashar, the son, inherited the dictatorship, it really became a neo-liberal régime, and a crony capitalist régime, in which the president's cousin, Rami Makhlouf, by 2011 was estimated to have a finger in 60% of the national economy.

 I think a lot of Syrians misunderstood Bashar, and gave him the benefit of the doubt. He personally remained popular until his first speech in 2011 after the outbreak of the popular uprising which then became a revolution. It was when he degenerated into conspiracy theories, and laughed at the fact that people were being killed, and threatened a fight, that so many people came off the fence and lost their respect for him. It is remarkable that in this country - the Western media as well was making a huge fuss about the fact - that briefly in the year 2000 there was one semi-tolerated semi-independent satirical newspaper. Today of course, in revolutionary Syria, in the liberated areas, there are tens of Free newspapers, tens of Free radio stations.

 It's chaos, but it's a wonderful revolutionary chaos, which is being attacked. There are over four hundred local councils in Syria, which we don't really talk about here. Most of them are democratically elected, so there are real achievements in the middle of this bloodbath.

 I don't think Obama has been weak. I think he has made a very definite, deliberate, and very unwise decision to hand over to Syria to other savage imperialist powers, primarily Russia, but also Iran. The crowning achievement of his administration has been a deal with Iran which I don't think we're against in principle, but it comes precisely at the time that Iran's got tens of thousands of occupation troops, and transnational Shia jihadists that it's organised, in Syria, who are really contributing to the problem, they're contributing to the arguments that ISIS use for their Sunni identity politics. I wish that Obama - it's a good aim after the Bush years to want to withdraw from the Middle East - but what he should have done is try to hand over to the democrats who are standing up in the Middle East and asking for a say in running of their own country, and not just handing it over, as if it's a cake he doesn't want. to other savage imperialist powers, who are causing more refugees, more extremism, and helping Assad destroy Syria, which isn't in anybody's interest.

 Iraq is a complicated situation, there are mistakes on all sides, the Iraqi society is divided and wounded. I think American policies have contributed to the sectarianism there. Saddam Hussein's policies contributed to the sectarianism, likewise Iran and other regional players. In Syria today, as I said, we have over 400 mostly democratically elected local councils, so the Arabs in Syria are practising democracy, and they're being ignored."

Leila Al-Shami:

"The media has focused on Syrians either as victims or as terrorists, and people have not focused on them as agents of positive change within their communities. I think it's essential that the local councils are given support. I also think it's essential that they're at the negotiations, because these are the only democratically elected representatives of Syrians that we have, and legitimacy really needs to be built from the ground up, democracy has to be built from the ground up, not imposed externally from outside.

 I think the US could support the local councils, or at least make them more visible and support their inclusion in the negotiation process, because where the US does seem to have influence
 is over the external negotiations. It doesn't really have much influence on the ground."

Robin Yassin-Kassab:

"Early on there were many members of the Ba'ath Party who hoped that pan-Arab secular nationalism would happen. That's why many members of the religious minorities in the early days went into the Ba'ath Party. But of course these dictatorships use divide and rule tactics. They were vehicles of power for the dictators, and the dictators, not because they were interested in religion, but just for divide and rule purposes, and because they trusted men that they were close to, they brought in people from their families, from their villages, from their communities, from their sectarian communities.

 But I must say the conflict in Syria is not ultimately a Sunni-Shia conflict at all. The president is from the Alawi community, which journalists tell us are Shia, but actually they're not. Traditionally both Sunni and Shia clerics consider Alawis to be heretics. Most Alawis are not very religious. To the extent that they are loyal to the régime, and several or many aren't, but to the extent that they are loyal, it is due to their fear of Islamist alternatives, and because the régime has been very clever in manipulating those fears, by releasing salafist jihadists from prison, having in effect a non-aggression pact with ISIS for a very long time, to allow them to build up, to scare both the West and religious minorities in Syria. But it's not really about that. It's about a struggle between dictatorship and democracy, and there are people from all sectarian backgrounds on the side of the revolution and also people from all sectarian backgrounds who are still loyal to the régime."

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

No-Fly Zone: Why Candidates’ Favorite Syria Solution Is No Easy Feat

  "They say a no-fly zone is an act of war against a sovereign nation that still has a seat at the United Nations."

 No, régimes committing war crimes and crimes against humanity are not protected by their retention of a UN seat from actions designed to prevent the commission of those crimes.

 "Establishing a no-fly zone—two, actually, as advocates have proposed one in Syria’s south and one in its north—would dramatically escalate American involvement in Syria’s civil war, require a ground force willing to defend the sanctuary, and do little to directly challenge ISIS’ control of territory outside the zone."

 1. It wouldn't dramatically escalate America's involvement. Every time Assad has been threatened, he has backed off. He barely has an army to call his own left, he's not going to fight the US when he can't fight poorly-armed Syrians.
2. The ground force is the Free Syrian Army. If it gets relief from the air, it is so much easier for it to recruit and retain those wishing to free their country, rather than them going to the Islamist militias or on boats to Europe.
3. The Free Syrian Army has been the most effective force against ISIS, despite being the worst armed, and ISIS concentrating its attacks on the FSA. When ISIS lost ground to the FSA in Northern Aleppo last week, it launched 13 vehicle borne IEDs in retaliation. Allowing the FSA and the liberated areas relief from Assad's bombing would allow them to deploy more resources against ISIS, and as Assad is the greatest recruiting sergeant for ISIS, once he is gone it will be much easier to get rid of ISIS entirely.

 "If the primary goals are stopping Assad’s barrel bombing of civilian populations, or degrading ISIS, there are less burdensome ways to accomplish them."
 Let's hear them. Giving the FSA anti-aircraft weapons might be more effective, but that is precisely the policy that the US has vetoed since Assad's bombing campaign started.

 "Perhaps most importantly, absent a wider strategy for ending the war, a no-fly zone could essentially freeze the Syrian conflict in place, leaving U.S. air power, already stretched thin, mired in a costly operation with no definable end."
 It's not true. Assad has faced losing to a much worse armed force repeatedly, because he has no real support, and has required massive foreign intervention to keep him on life support. In 2013 a massive intervention by Hezbollah, in 2014 by Iran itself, in 2015 by Russia. If you take away his ability to force those who might show any opposition to leave the country, he has no strategy left, and his ability to keep any of the country hostage to his survival diminishes. Take steps that would weaken him are the way to bring the conflict to an end, because it is his out of control torture-rape state that is the source of instability. When a major source of state employees income is selling torture victims back to their families, there is no way that state can ever be at peace with its victims.

 "Some military experts believe the Russian warplane shot down by Turkey was probing inside that NATO ally’s airspace precisely to send a message that Moscow would oppose establishment of a no-fly zone along the border."

 And the Russians didn't try it again when the Turks shot the plane down. Putin has enough trouble with the wars he has started in Crimea and now Syria, and it is only the present administration's persistent backing off that has encouraged him to push his luck.'

Sunday, 17 April 2016

David Davis sucking up to Assad

 One of the best informed supporters of the Syrian revolution is a Hawkwind fan, so after Urban Guerilla as the backing for a Free Army video we get this¹.

 The Tory MP David Davis has just been sucking up to Assad. "We had warned him before we arrived that we were going to be very frank with him." They asked him about barrel bombs, he ignored the question. They asked him about the torture of prisoners, he said it was a foreign conspiracy. And still this douchebag thinks if we help him it will moderate his behaviour. There aren't any moderate oppositionists, because the head of an NGO told David Davis so. Maybe the same NGO of which Dr. Annie Sparrow wrote², "OCHA’s defense that any aid delivered from Damascus is better than none has not been weighed against the human and financial cost of bolstering a regime that is deliberately increasing the hardship of people in opposition-held areas. It’s time for OCHA to do its part by revisiting its underlying principles and acting accordingly—to check out of the Four Seasons Hotel in Damascus, to leave the Syrian capital, and to stop supporting the atrocities of the Syrian government."
 Presumably the Free Syrian Army has to infiltrate the Four Seasons as chambermaids in order to get their message to Tory MPs. In other news, the Syrian government forces, i.e. Shia militias invading Syria at Iran's behest, have just lost a huge arsenal of weapons³ to ISIS. Remember when the problem with arming the Free Army was that weapons would end up with ISIS? Now it happens for real, and its not important. In fact this might have been deliberate, like the loss of Palmyra, "A month before the city fell to Daesh, we had received information that Daesh was planning to attack Tadmur and the adjacent city of Sukhna. We conveyed the information to Assad himself," said Mohamed Qassim, who formerly served as attorney-general in Syria’s central city of Tadmur. "But instead of laying out a plan to defend the city, Assad ordered military forces to vacate Tadmur in hopes of tempting Daesh to fill the vacuum."
 Much better was right-wing US senator Lindsey Graham,

 "General Jones, I just returned from Turkey. Turkey is -- is no longer taking refugees from Syria. Are you aware of that?"
 "Yes, sir, I am."
 "Mr. Blinken, has Jordan taken refugees from Syria?"
 "As a practical matter, very, very few."
 "What about Lebanon?"
 "Also, it slowed down. They put requirements on admissions, but as a practical matter make it difficult for people to get in."
 "So I want the Committee to know that people in Syria are trapped. There's no place to go."

Saturday, 16 April 2016

‘Accountability and Transitional Justice’ Seen Key to Sustained Peace in Syria

 'The solution to the situation in Syria should include a comprehensive process for accountability and transitional justice, according to Mazen Darwish, President of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression.

Darwish noted that at the Geneva talks, everyone is going “around the main topic, without discussing the real solution.” He stressed that there is no easy way to reconciliation. “You cannot press end to this conflict and then expect everything to be right again,” he added.

 In order to have real solutions and to prevent the resurgence of another civil war, questions regarding the Kurdish population, political transformation, accountability, and reconciliation need to be addressed, according to Darwish. If these underlying issues remain unaddressed and “do not take into consideration the transitional justice, then we will just have ticking bombs for the future,” he said.

 He stated that the only way to protect the Syrian minorities is to hold the regime accountable, “not by extermination of the majority or by rewarding those who committed crimes against the humanity and letting them go with those crimes.”

 “Putting the Syrian people in front of only two options, dictatorship or terrorism, is unethical, immoral and unacceptable,” said Darwish. He highlighted the importance of peace in Syria for Europe and the international community: “This world won’t be alright without peace and development in Syria. Even here in the US, or in Europe, or in any place in the world, we need democracy and peace inside Syria to have democracy and peace in the whole world.”

 According to Darwish, if the Syrian citizens who are looking and willing to fight for freedom and democracy for the future are defeated, then everyone will be defeated. “No one would benefit from that except for terrorism.” As such, the removal of dictators and the defeat of terrorism are linked. “If we are really serious to fight ISIS and its ideology, we should guarantee that dictatorship should be defeated first,” he said.'

Thanks to UK and US intervention, al-Qaeda now has a mini-state in Yemen. It's Iraq and Isis all over again

Image result for Thanks to UK and US intervention, al-Qaeda now has a mini-state in Yemen. It's Iraq and Isis all over again

 Patrick Cockburn shows more clearly than ever that he prefers dictators to popular revolution. It would be nice if his admirers, from Noam Chomsky to Jeremy Corbyn, would acknowledge this. There is extreme dissonance if you say, "I'm not saying things were better when Gadaffi was in power, but...", or "I'm not pro-Assad, but...", and then promote a man who is saying precisely that, that it is better when the tyrants are in charge, that the people love them, that the opposition is just a Western-backed illusion that paved the way for dangerous extremist Muslims.

 "There was the same lethal pretence by Western powers in Libya and Syria that the rebels they backed represented the mass of the population and were capable of taking over from existing regimes. In reality, the weakening or destruction of central government created a power vacuum promptly filled by extreme jihadi groups."

 It's noticeable that in Yemen, Cockburn presents everything as being the fault of Saudi Arabia - and the West that should be backing dictators, though not the Saudi ones for some reason. He refers a couple of times to suggestions that the pro-the previous dictator and Houthi side has any Iranian backing as inaccurate labelling and having little evidence for it, but gives no reason why we should take his word for it. And this feels a bit like traditional stereotyping of Arabs:

Yemeni politics is exceptionally complicated and often violent, but violence has traditionally been followed by compromise between warring parties."

 In truth it is allowing Assad to proceed with his genocide against Sunni Muslims that has wrecked "
a whole country and enable al Qaeda and Isis to use the chaos to establish safe havens." The Institute For War & Peace Reporting* shows how much there is nothing but a barbarous kleptocracy where the Syrian state once was, where it hasn't simply handed over parts of the country to Iran. There can be no end to ISIS while this cancer persists, the very disease Cockburn wants us to preserve.

My family and I fled Syria on January 24, 2012. Too many of us had already been arrested and it was no longer safe.

 The government had eyes and ears everywhere. Young men were being paid handsome amounts of money to join the ranks of the shabiha paramilitaries. They were on every corner, in every neighbourhood. They were the worst kind of human beings, with no moral scruples.  
 My family and many others suffered a great deal because of the shabiha. They detained people for trivial reasons without a second thought as to what would become of them. They didn’t care if the person was a man or a woman, young or old.
 We fled our country because of these villains.

 One woman told us how she had been detained in al-Qusur street. She was carrying a laptop the shabiha probably wanted for themselves. They accused her of participating in terrorist activities and threw her in jail. When her youngest son went to the local intelligence headquarters to ask after her, he too was thrown in one of their cells. The woman was later released, but her son remained in prison for two years. He was tortured until he died.

 A friend of mine from a village in Latakia’s countryside also suffered at their hands. “They took my husband and held him for three years, following which they executed him. He died before meeting his youngest daughter. He was an aircraft engineer and was caught while sabotaging one of their military aircrafts.”
 Then there was the woman from the village of al-Bayda in Banyas. The village was one of the first in the governorate of Tartus to announce its support for the revolution. The woman I met told me about a massacre in May 2013 in which at least 250 people were killed as a punishment for the uprising.
 “They divided the men, women and children into separate groups, then killed them in the ugliest of ways. It was indiscriminate murder. Neither gender nor age mattered to them. They even set the wounded on fire. When they left, those of us who had survived gathered the bodies of the dead and buried them in mass graves. Then more than 500 families fled, and we were amongst them,” she said.

 The woman’s elderly father-in-law was slaughtered along with his two sons, while his third son watched in horror. That third son was her husband. The couple sold their house in Banyas for a fraction of what it was worth to fund their journey to Turkey and then to Europe where they hoped to find medical care, jobs and a future for their young children.

 Umm Mohammed last saw her son Mohammed on November 6, 2012. That day, the government launched a major offensive on her town of Saraqib. Mohammed’s wife was martyred. When they found her she was still clutching the loaf of bread she had gone out to buy for her children. Umm Mohammed searched amongst the bodies of the martyrs for her son, but she could not find him. She took his children and fled to Reyhanli in Turkey where she how lives with her daughter.'