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."