Friday, 9 September 2016

Here’s why Assad’s army can’t win the war in Syria

A Syrian army soldier atop Fahr-al-Din castle, photo by Valery Sharifullin/TASS

 Robin Yassin-Kassab:

 ' "This is fascinating. Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn* and other commentators dressed up as reporters tell us the only coherent force in Syria is the Syrian ‘government’ and its army, and that the Free Army doesn’t exist. Here a Russian imperialist officer, addressing his own, explains that the Syrian army is only good for extortion, that it can’t recruit any more fighters, and that the Free Army and Islamist resistance far outweighs it in morale and combat ability. He concludes that a victory for Assad is impossible, and that Russia should therefore pull out."

 While militias, Iranian volunteers, Hezbollah and PMCs fight in lieu of the Syrian army, Bashar Assad’s soldier busy themselves with collecting bribes at checkpoints. This view becomes more and more widespread among military experts aware of the actual situation in Syria. The country’s air force is worn down and uses home-made bombs, the soldiers dig moats to protect from terrorists’ tunnels, while the militants enjoy tactical and moral superiority, says Mikhail Khodarenok,’s military observer.

 The actual fighting against opposition groups is mostly done by Syrian militias, the Lebanese Hezbollah Shia units, Iranian and Iraqi volunteers and Private Military Companies (PMCs). The main military actions Assad’s army engages in is extorting a tribute from the locals. The Syrian armed forces have not conducted a single successful offensive during the past year. Apparently Syria’s General Staff has no coherent short-term or mid-term strategic plans. Assad’s generals do not believe their troops can bring the country to order without military aid from foreign states. They do not plan large-scale operations, giving the reasoning of ostensibly high combat capabilities of the illegal armed groups, lack of ammunition and modern equipment, a fear of heavy losses and a negative outcome of the fighting.

 The Syrian army fighters see no close end to the crisis. There are no set dates of ending military service. The achievements of soldiers and officers are not encouraged or awarded. The materiel and food supplies are inadequate. There are no benefits for soldiers or their families. Most importantly, even if the Syrian leadership wished to solve these problems, they couldn’t raise the funds to do so. Assad’s government currently has no stable income sources. Years of fighting have severely disrupted the country’s economy. Industrial production has fallen by 70%, agriculture — by 60%, oil production — by 95% and natural production — by 70%. The Syrian treasury has no money even for immediate defense expenditures.

 This situation is further exacerbated by the Syrian army being severely understaffed and underequipped. Currently, the staffing and equipment levels stand a bit over 50% of the required figures. The yearly draft does not satisfy even the minimal needs of the army. Due to this, since 2011 sergeants and privates who have served their terms have not been discharged.

 The draft fails due to a number of reasons. Some potential conscripts support the anti-government forces and actively dodge the draft. Others have joined the illegal armed groups. Still others have adopted a wait-and-see attitude, preferring not to fight for any of the sides. Many potential recruits have become refugees outside Syria, some of them in Europe. A large part of the population lives on territories outside the government troops’ control. Finally, recruits and their families fear reprisals from the militants.

 The majority of Syrian army units are based at fortified checkpoints. There are in total about 2 thousand such checkpoints throughout Syria. Thus, over a half of the army operates with no connection to their units. Sitting inside those fortified checkpoints, the Syrian regulars are mostly doing defensive duties and extorting money from the locals. They do not conduct any major operations to liberate population or administration centers.

 The Air Force deserves a special mention. The Syrian Arab Air Force conducts a significant number of sorties daily (reaching 100 in certain days in 2015), over 85% of which are bombing runs. The Air Force’s contribution to the overall fire damage is about 70%. The airstrikes are conducted by several dozen fighter/bomber jets and around 40 army aviation helicopters. The SyAAF’s main modus operandi is solitary sorties. Flights in pairs and larger units are not done in order to save resources. In order to decrease losses, the bombing runs are done at heights of 3 thousand meters and above. In extreme cases, dive bombing is used.

 Due to the lack of air ordnance, the Syrian army has until recently used even sea mines, torpedoes and depth charges for ground attacks. The so-called “barrel bombs” are also widely used. Over 10,000 of the latter have been dropped on the enemy. A “barrel bomb” is a type of home-made air ordnance weighting 200 to 1000 kg. It is a section of a wide oil pipeline welded shut with metal plates from both sides and stuffed with a high amount of explosives. A “barrel bomb” is highly explosive and is used to destroy buildings and attack large gatherings of the militants.

 There is no pilot training to replenish the combat losses (training in Russia has been discontinued). The aircraft are not being repaired (the only aircraft repair plant is inside the Aleppo warzone).

 Underground tunnels and passages have been dug in Syria since the times of the Roman Empire and the founding of the first cities, such as Palmyra (Tadmor), Damascus, Raqqa and Homs. The local soil encourages this. Being rather soft and clayey, the soil does not slough, which is why both sides of the conflict toil endlessly to dig underground passages of all kinds and purposes. Militants dig tunnels or use a wide network of old ones to achieve surprise during attacks on military facilities and government troops. Despite a severe underground threat, the Syrian army has a rather negligent attitude to this. There is almost no information on caves or underground communications in towns or militant-controlled territories adjacent to them.

 The Free Syrian Army (FSA) higher officers are former General Staff leaders, brigade and division generals and colonels, while the rebel units are mostly staffed with deserters from Assad’s army. The militants are highly mobile and capable of rapidly creating assault groups at critical points of the frontline. They have good knowledge of the area (70% of the illegal armed groups’ fighters are Syrian nationals) and command significant financial and human resources. In the absence of a precise front line, the armed opposition groups engage in active focal fighting. Most of their efforts are applied to holding commanding heights and towns prepared for a perimeter defense. This enables fire control of government troops’ movement lines. The high survivability of the militants during stationary fighting in fortified areas is ensured by using shelters prepared in advance. Those shelters often hide their actual location, numbers and composition.

 The militants place observation points close to the contact line for advance detection of the government troops’ assault groupings. A post is manned by 2-3 people with means of observation, communication and transportation. The militants srtive to maintain control over areas by conducting local counterattacks, sabotage in the rear (including suicide attacks), constantly work to seize initiative from the government troops. As a rule, counterattacks are performed by small groups of 10-15 militants in 3-4 cars with mounted heavy machine guns and 82mm mortars, supported by multi-launching rocket systems. One to five such groups may take part in an attack. The purpose of the counterattacks is regaining initiative with the aim to reestablish control over the lost position an the territory in general.

 When under attack from Russian forces, the armed groups leave their positions and towns, maintaining small groups of observers. The militants’ units that have sustained significant damage are redeployed to Turkey or to areas under active ceasefire to restore capabilities, reinforce and resupply.

 The morale and combat capabilities of the militants are highly above those of the SAA soldiers.

 The illegal armed groups have integrated guerrilla and terrorist techniques into their tactics, combining them with conventional warfare methods utilized by regular troops. Their tactics continue to adapt based on the enemy’s behavior. The command system the illegal armed groups have created enables prompt and rather efficient reactive measures towards changing conditions. The militants’ success is made easier by the openness of Syria’s borders (the government only controls the Syria-Lebanon border and a 50 km stretch of the Syria-Jordan border.

 At the start of the civil war, the government troops enjoyed a quantitative advantage in everything, especially aviation, tanks and artillery. Assad could reasonably hope for a swift success in fighting irregular armed groups of the rebels. However, the Syrian Civil War and the fight against islamists have once again confirmed that a numeric and technical advantage is not enough to achieve victory. Even good theoretical knowledge of the leadership does not play a decisive role.

 In order to win a military conflict, just like in old times, one needs a strong spirit, an unyielding will for victory, trust in oneself and one’s troops, decisiveness, bravery, inventiveness, flexibility and an ability to lead others. All this lacks severely in Assad’s army. It is unclear what should be done to the half-rotten structure of the Syrian army. No amount of repressions, be it shootings, penal battalions or retreat-blocking detachments, can’t make it fight. There are no examples of this in military history. Strict disciplinary measures may establish order in shaky units and detachments which fell under a spell of panic on the battlefield. Arms could be used to neutralize the panic and flight instigators, shoot deserters, self-injurers, traitors and defeatists. But no war has ever been won with military tribunals and death sentences. If the soldiers have no higher goal to protect their motherland, aren’t ready to sacrifice themselves, defend every position to the last drop of blood and look into the face of death while rushing in an attack, no amount of penal companies or retreat-blocking detachments can save such an army.

 One the one hand, it would seam easy to completely demobilize (in other words, completely disband) the Syrian army and recruit a new one. In other words, restart the process of building up the country’s military. On the other hand, the main problem is that new men are nowhere to be found in modern Syria. Any newly created army will naturally inherit all the malaises of the old SAA. There also is no definitive answer to a substantial question: who’s gonna pay for that?

It is impossible to win the war with such an ally as Assad’s army.

 The militias can’t be fully relied on either. Hezbollah and the Iranians have their own interests. This is why apparently the Russian military and political leadership shall have to take a drastic decision: end the Syria campaign before the end of 2016, withdrawing all troops and leaving only the military bases. It is impossible to restore the constitutional order to Syria by solely military means without serious diplomatic, political, economic and propaganda efforts, as well as significant support of the ruined country by foreign states.'

*Patrick Cockburn has been touring an empty Daraya with its occupiers. My comment has been deleted.[]

 'Sickening stuff from Patrick Cockburn. Like touring occupied Srebrenica with Karadjic.
"divided among themselves"
 No evidence given for this invention.
 "There is not so much as an ancient slogan on a wall to show they ever existed."
 Cockburn isn't much of a journalist.

 "The nightmarish complexity of getting UN relief convoys into Zabadani and Madaya."
 It isn't complicated, the Assad régime (or Iran in the cases of Zabadani and Madaya) says no, the UN doesn't make a fuss. That's why many NGO are withdrawing their cooperation from the UN.

 "But every month or so, commercial traders are allowed in and people stock up."
 I doubt this is true. I do know that the people of al-Waer are having to treat their children's burns from government napalm attacks with mud.

 Patrick Cockburn would like to believe this is a major victory for Assad, and a sign he will win the war. The truth is Assad needs the appearance of victory against a brave bunch of volunteers who held off his army for four years against overwhelming odds, because he simply doesn't have an army capable of winning any war.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Yassin al-Haj Saleh: "We must bring Assad to justice"

Image result for Yassin al-Haj Saleh : « Il faut traduire Bachar al-Assad en justice »

 Yassin al-Haj Saleh:

 'Syria is not a simple dictatorship. It has all the features of what I call "the modern sultanate. Bashar al-Assad behaves like the owner of the country and its people. By its geographical position, Syria occupies an essential place in geopolitics, so many powers such as Russia, Iran, the United States and Israel prefer to keep the status quo. No foreign force has seriously supported the population during the uprising.

 Since 2011, not a day has passed without women or men killed by the regime. This government enjoys a form of impunity, it seems even rewarded for his actions. Revolutions can be beaten, put down, but in Syria, the entire population is crushed. The situation is complicated with the presence of jihadist forces I describe as "nihilistic": they have given Syria an image particularly repellent to the international powers.

 The plight of the opposition stems from several things: Syria has not experienced a normal political life for nearly a half century. During the long reign of Hafez al-Assad, an entire generation of political activists spent most of their lives in prison; they did not share the daily life of the Syrians nor were they able to develop a political strategy. The repression continued with the arrival of Hafez's son in power. After the very start of the uprising, all the young hopeful revolutionaries were jailed or killed; there were tens of thousands of deaths between 2011 and 2012. The driving forces of the uprising were left paralyzed. The uprising became the act of disunited groups, often isolated from each other by their attachment to regional forces.

 Like Tunisians, Egyptians, Yemenis, the Syrian people had no support for their uprising but each other. Assad launched the slogan: "It's me or nothing." The Western powers have believed this without trying to seek a viable alternative. They look at Syria as a geopolitical position, not as a people claiming freedom, dignity and citizenship.

 No revolution in the world has created a perfect new society overnight. Take the example of France, it took years of struggle, change, and civil wars to achieve relative political stability. How can anyone imagine that Syria can overthrow a despot and straight away build perfect institutions after fifty years of harsh dictatorship? How can we easily and immediately move to a democratic republic? We defend the idea of ​​a transition; it is necessary that the Syrian social forces get used to living, to discussing, to exchanging ideas together, before to build a new Syria. Assad has made Syria a political desert. It is impossible that it becomes a leafy garden in one or two years.'

A Glimmer of Hope Opens for Syrian Rebels As Peace Talks Intensify

Members of Free Syrian Army are seen in Cobanbey (Al-Rai) town of Al-Bab District near Jarabulus, Syria, on Sept. 6, 2016. The anti-ISIS operation called Euphrates Shield, which was launched on Aug. 24, aims at improving security, supporting coalition forces, supporting Syria's territorial integrity and eliminating the terror threat along Turkeys border through FSA fighters backed by Turkish armor, artillery and jets.

 'When Turkish tanks and warplanes crossed into Syria to help rebels retake the town of Jarabulus from ISIS on August 24, Syrian refugees at a camp just north of the border celebrated. A man named Abdel Wahab Shobak even shaved his beard, mirroring celebrations by other Syrian men freed from restrictive jihadi rule. Stranded in Turkey, Shobak hadn’t been living under ISIS, but he was still elated. “I was so happy at the liberation of these areas, and in hope of going back home soon,” he says. “The operation actually gave us some hope.”

 The two-week-old Turkish military incursion unsettled the already chaotic battlefield in Syria, strengthening the hand of the Syrian opposition and angering the regime of President Bashar Assad and his key backer, Russia. The operation expelled Islamic State forces from the last stretch they controlled on the Syrian-Turkish border, depriving the jihadists of an important smuggling route to Turkey’s major cities and to Europe, potentially cutting off the path for new jihadis.

 The operation also provides a glimmer of hope to some of the nearly three million Syrian refugees who remain stranded in Turkey, among a total population of 4.8 million people scattered across the region and beyond. A few are already aspiring to return to their homes in what Turkish officials are calling a “de facto safe zone” in northern Syria. Even those whose homes are not directly affected expressed relief at seeing ISIS eliminated from the border area. The operation also emboldened some of the embattled forces of the Syrian opposition, who stand to take control of the newly-liberated areas.

 “The situation is very good. The Syrian opposition is advancing backed by Turkish forces,” says Zaki Amin, a local council official from the newly-freed town of Ghandoura, speaking by phone from Syria. “They’re advancing every minute, thank God, and hopefully in the coming days we’ll liberate al-Bab.”

 The opposition-affiliated local councils are in the early stages of setting up governance and aid distribution in the newly-freed areas. Mohamed Haji Ibrahim, a lawyer and head of the Ghandoura local council, said he is preparing to return to the town after years in which his town suffocated under ISIS rule. “Ghandoura has been neglected for more than three years. The people of the world don’t know where Ghandoura is and what a strategic town it is,” he said in an interview in the city of Gaziantep in Turkey.

 A Russian and American-backed ceasefire declared in February collapsed within a few months as Russian-backed regime forces advanced. Those advances included imposing a siege on the key rebel stronghold in the city of Aleppo in June. Briefly interrupted by an Islamist-led counterattack in August, the siege of eastern Aleppo is now back in place, trapping an estimated 300,000 civilians in the rebel enclave.

 Back in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, another refugee named Ahmed Dallal, 45, sits in his living room where he lives with his family of seven. He had lived in Aleppo before fleeing intense shelling by the regime in 2012. He returned with his family to his hometown of Jarabulus, on the Turkish border. They lived there happily until 2013, when ISIS began infiltrating the town, preparing the way for a takeover that would come later that year. In February of 2013, he denounced ISIS during a relative’s funeral and had to flee after a jihadi official threatened him. Following the Turkish incursion, Jarabulus now falls in the so-called “safe zone.” He says, “I support this action. It should have come sooner.” He has no plans to return for now, but that may change. “I will go back to Jarabulus if I feel it is safe.” '

 "FSA advances today against Daesh in northern Aleppo province with TAF support."[]

ISIS Tears Attention Away From Activism in Syria

Image result for A Syrian man reacts while standing on the rubble of his house while others look for survivors

 'When Omar Arab hears the sound of shelling nearby, he does not run for cover. He runs toward the noise. Arab is an independent photojournalist living in Aleppo, Syria. Once an ancient metropolis, it is now the battleground of what the Red Cross recently described as “one of the most devastating urban conflicts in modern times.”

 With help from Russian aerial forces and elite Iranian soldiers, Assad has launched a brutal assault on rebel-held parts of the city. Activists on the ground have accused the regime of deliberately targeting schools and medical centers throughout the siege.

 Arab also claims that in addition to targeting schools and medical centers, Russian and Syrian aircraft have targeted residential neighborhoods, including his own in a small swath of rebel-held territory in western Aleppo.

 “The situation in Aleppo is very bad. There are many dead after the regime targeted neighborhoods with rockets. They also destroyed my house,” Arab wrote to me back in June. The situation has only worsened since.

 The attention of the international community has shifted away from drawing red lines against the Assad regime and supporting the opposition to the fight against ISIS.

 Activists feel forgotten by the international community, and Syrians hope and demand that the world redirect its focus back to the revolution and understand that empowering activists is critical for a long-term solution for Syria. Defeating ISIS alone is not the end-all solution to the conflict.

 The revolution began as a grass-roots effort. Inspired by the successful overthrow of oppressive leaders in Egypt and Tunisia during the Arab Spring, the Syrians sought to confront their own despot. Protests erupted throughout the country in the beginning of 2011. The political objectives of the Damascus Spring of 2000 had included establishing a multi-party democracy, recognizing freedom of assembly, press and speech, the release of political prisoners, economic rights for all citizens and lifting of the 1963 emergency law. Syrian activists adopted these demands in 2011, but soon reached breaking point only a few months after the uprising began with the torture of 15 schoolboys detained for scrawling anti-regime graffiti in the city of Dara’a.

 When the protests demanding the boys’ release were met with indiscriminate gunfire, they expanded to demand an end to the Assad regime.

 Protests not only continued to take place but grew larger despite the regime’s brutal crackdown. The uprising began as a series of stop-and-go protests, and eventually blossomed into a full-blown revolution. The goals of the revolution transcended religious sects, with Sunni and Shia Muslims and other religious minorities working parallel, and often together, against the regime. Activists formed local revolutionary councils, the most popular being the Local Coordination Committees (LCC) aimed at helping organize protests in their own communities and supporting the Syrian National Coalition (SNC).

 As the crackdown by the regime became increasingly violent, a growing number of soldiers refused to shoot at protesters and began defecting en masse. The wave of defections, including 10,000 in the first year of the revolution, allowed for the creation of the Free Syria Army (FSA). Although the LCCs and activists believe foremost in the efficacy of nonviolent protest, they understood that the conflict had become militarized, and that their work would need to adapt accordingly.

 Rebel-held territories like eastern Aleppo allow activists to thrive and work peacefully toward the goals of the revolution. But their efforts would become greatly complicated by the rise of ISIS, which has torn international attention away from the revolution that consequently bolsters the Assad regime, the very outcome that the activists worked so hard to avoid.

 The emergence of ISIS in Syria has transformed the work of the Syrian opposition movement, especially its activists on the ground still fighting for the revolution. International media has callously conflated the opposition as a single entity that includes ISIS. It is this very misconception that has given momentum to the regime. Foreign states view Syria through a binary lens between the opposition and the Assad regime and consequentially believe that to defeat ISIS the Syrian government must stay in power.

 “Activists on the ground feel forgotten. They feel like they were betrayed by the rest of the world. It’s sexier—a hotter topic to talk about ISIS rather than talk about the wants and demands of Syrian civilians, which is a free and democratic nation,” Ala’a Basatneh, a young activist born in Syria but raised in the US, emphasizes to me during an interview. Basatneh is the main subject of the documentary #ChicagoGirl: The Social Network Takes on a Dictator, which depicts her bold efforts to help activists in Syria coordinate with each other through social media. Even with the rise of ISIS, she explains, dethroning Assad continues to be a priority for most activists.

 “[Assad] was a big factor in creating ISIS. He has won time, he has won allies worldwide—it’s not only Russia, China and Iran [that] are aiding him or are lenient on him because of ISIS. So, the only one benefactor for what’s going on in Syria and what ISIS is doing is the Syrian regime.”

 For Ola Karman, a Syrian activist living in Aleppo, ISIS has not overwhelmingly affected her work because eastern Aleppo where she resides is protected by the rebels, which has helped preserve it as a hub of revolutionary activity. It has not changed her determination to work toward the “fall of the regime and liberation.”

 As Syrians are bombarded by both state forces and radical Islamists, LCCs have expanded their experiment in self-governance by organizing much-needed humanitarian work. The opposition has built clinics and hospitals, organized makeshift schools for the youth and helps support first responders like the revered White Helmets rescue volunteers. Syrian activists who coordinate with rebels to channel aid to besieged and liberated territories are often targeted by the regime and, more recently, Russian airstrikes. The revolution now is not only an ambitious effort to depose the Assad regime, but also to survive.

 The opposition movement has thus had to resort to moving underground. As the documentary #ChicagoGirl shows, even before the rise of ISIS clinics gradually moved underground. However, that has not stopped the regime from finding and targeting them in direct airstrikes. The clinics Basatneh visited and brought medical supplies to in 2012 have since been destroyed.

 Instead of organizing protests against the regime, activists have shifted focus to documenting the revolution and atrocities committed by Assad and his accomplices, mainly Russia and Iran. Thanks to the work of citizen journalists, the conflict is considerably the most well-documented of its kind. Through a variety of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube activists like Omar Arab expose the actions of the Assad regime to the rest of the world.

 “I am a photographer and document the crimes of the regime in pictures and video because I have to be a witness and prove that the regime is not aiming at terrorists but civilians,” says Arab.

 His photos depict the grim reality of everyday life in Aleppo—the daily bombs that pound the city, the destruction and the human compassion of ordinary Syrians helping each other survive.

 Ala’a Basatneh also points out that their work embodies the long-term picture of a post-Assad Syria: “The more documentation we have the more we are able to bring people into account after the topple happens in the Syrian regime, after Assad is gone.”

 Syrians are not calling for the international community to redirect its focus to the revolution in order to minimize the real threat that ISIS poses, but rather because they strongly believe that supporting the revolution will help put an end to the terror wrought by the group. Activists help lay the foundation for a free and democratic Syria by developing a robust civil society that works toward solidifying the values of the revolution—mainly promoting equality, justice, pluralism and freedom of speech and religion.

 Karman emphasizes the importance of civil society in the revolution because of individuals who have helped lessen Syrians’ dependence on the government: “The role of Syrian activists is really important in the Syrian revolution between doctors, teachers, first responders, etc., because they have the ability to build institutions and schools outside of the regime’s control [which] might negatively affect Assad’s regime.”

 Those active in the revolution understand that a free and democratic Syria will not come with the overhaul of the existing regime alone, but of state institutions as well. A smooth transition to democracy is incumbent upon avoiding a power vacuum that could empower ISIS even more. The activists are working to guarantee that they are prepared for a post-Assad Syria.

 This past summer alone, ISIS has launched a wave of terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds around the world. It is undeniably a global threat. The Syrians know this better than anyone. By boosting funds to groups like the White Helmets to appease the preconditions of the opposition in order to encourage them to join the peace talks and, most importantly, supporting Syrian activists by following their fight against the Assad regime, the international community can make headway in helping the revolution while simultaneously fighting ISIS.

 The alternative is the status quo, with the international community continuing to look at the Syrian conflict through a binary lens between the Assad regime and ISIS. Even if the world has given up on the revolution, the activists are the ones keeping the country from an irreversible collapse and are the best hope that Syria has for a stable future.

 “If they stop, no one else is talking against Assad. If they stop, then hundreds of people will have died for nothing. These protesters and people who were targeted during protests by barrel bombs and sniper bullets—they are demanding for Assad to go. Their work, the activists that continue their work, they are the ones that continue that legacy to make sure that Assad goes. If Assad doesn’t go, then ISIS will grow, and more chaos will grow, in not only the Middle East, but also in the West—and we won’t see ISIS back down if Assad doesn’t go.” said Basatneh.

 The greatest goal of the revolution was to have the voices of the Syrian people heard. It is time the world started listening.'

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Turkey's shifting interests and the perils of inaction

Turkey's shifting interests and the perils of inaction

Sam Charles Hamad:
Turkey's strategic interests here are clear: The first is to stop the development of a contiguous state run by a PKK-affiliate on its border. The second is to halt infiltration from IS (we must not forget that Turkey is, outside of places where IS has a concrete presence, the country that has faced the most terror attacks from the group) and carry out mortar attacks on Turkish towns near the Syrian border. It is itself a tragedy that one must determine anything related to Syria based on ethnicity, but the narrative, widely perpetuated by the ever more unhinged PYD (they are now claiming not that Turkey merely supports IS, but that itis IS), that Turkey is "attacking the Kurds" and assaulting the PYD's Rojava statelet, is simply inaccurate.  

 The Turkish military is assisting the Syrian rebel forces in retaking Arab-majority villages that the YPG took opportunistically during a time when the rebels were overstretched fighting Assad and IS. The YPG's purpose in this was to join up the Afrin Canton of Rojava with the Kobani Canton. The price of such unification would be vast areas of land occupied by Syrian Arabs. In this respect, the rebels are merely using a rare and much-needed strategic advantage to take their towns and cities back from IS, and reverse the opportunistic land grabs of the YPG. Ideologically speaking, both Rojava and the Islamic State are - to different degrees - hostile to the idea of a Free Syria and the goals of the Syrian revolution. IS is unambiguously monstrous, but beneath the YPG's progressive rhetoric, they too are hostile to political pluralism, suppressing Kurdish opposition within Rojava. In addition, they are prone to ethnic cleansing based on the interrelated evils of chauvinism and the Realpolitik of state-building. 

 The YPG's ranks are of course made up of people who want to defend their communities from the fascism of IS, but this doesn't mean that this very real fight can't also be used as a pretext for more pragmatic manoeuvers. Manbij, an Arab-majority city that was recently occupied by the YPG is a good example. While the YPG have sought to portray the primary motivation of taking the city as being part of its fight against IS, the targeting of that city was not arbitrary. Manbij not only gives the YPG access to water resources via the Euphrates River, but it would also be key in uniting Kobani with Afrin. It is clear that the YPG had no intention whatsoever of giving up Manbij, despite the city being previously run by a revolutionary council elected after the city was first liberated by local Syrian rebels in 2012, prior to occupation by IS. 

 The US - the YPG's main backer - even ordered the group to leave the city for locals to run it (this has not occurred in any meaningful capacity), but things reached crisis point when the YPG then set up the Jarabulus Military Council, indicating that it planned on moving on the strategically important Arab-majority city. For Turkey, this constituted a crossing of the red line that ultimately prompted the incursion. The YPG's narrative that Turkey and the Syrian rebels' current offensive is motivated by a similar "jihadi" ideology as that of IS, simply has no veracity. Of the Syrian rebel groups currently fighting IS and the YPG, all are fighting for a democratic and pluralistic Syria. This is not an issue of the perceived "secularism" of the YPG being assaulted by the Islamist barbarism of Turkey and the rebels. 

 The different rationales behind the Turkish intervention, are of course interrelated. The more IS is allowed to run riot in northern Syria, the better the pretext for the YPG to conduct land grabs towards the unification of its cantons. Turkey is not attacking Rojava proper and has absolutely no justification to do so - any such aggression would be indicative of its will to oppose Kurdish autonomy at all costs, which ought to be anathema to supporters of the Syrian revolution. Since the war began, the YPG has had, in contrast to the rebels, a fairly easy time of it when it comes to Assad (as I detailed here), but its main fight has been against IS and - in line with expanding its state - the Syrian rebels.  To the latter end, it has taken advantage of Russian airstrikes against rebel positions and coordinated attacks against the rebels with Assad's forces.

 The Turkish intervention is symptomatic of a central tragedy of the war in Syria. Assad and his Iranian and Russian allies can now ethnically cleanse the rebel-held, revolutionary-run areas of Syria. These have been broken down by years of brutal besiegement and bombardment, just as we saw recently in Daraya, and are key to Assad's survival. We'll soon see this in al-Waer in Homs, and other precarious rebel-held areas - the main argument of appeasement now is that nobody can act to aid these rebel forces because it would run the risk of military confrontation with Russia. But, in reality, as this Turkish intervention proves, if those countries who had the capability to do so, were to comprehensively aid rebel forces fighting against ethnic cleansing, mass extermination and this brutal dynasty and its imperialist allies, it could with some ease do so without risking a World War. Turkey has shown the arguments for inaction are completely void, but still, the world will watch passively as Assad and his allies continue with their genocide.'

Iraqi Families Sent to Syria to Change Demographics

 Imam al-Hussein Brigade leader Sheikh Amjad Bahadli leads prayers in Darayya. (Facebook/Imam al-Hussein Brigade)

  'Iraqi families are being sent to Syria to change the demographics in the country, according to sources close to the activities of the Iranian-backed armed militias in Syria.

 “The most important plan currently conducted by the armed militias, is to bring Iraqi families mostly coming from the southern Shi’ite-majority provinces, and place them in several Syrian areas, particularly in Daraya, Maadamiyat al-Sham and al-Midan,” the source said, adding that around 300 Iraqi families have already arrived to Syria with an aim to produce a demographic change.

 The source, who lives in Beirut, said that Harakat al-Nujaba is the movement responsible for sending those Iraqi families by collaborating with other parties and factions in Syria. He said Harakat al-Nujaba is headed by Akram al-Kaabi, a close ally to Iran and who has a direct relationship with Iranian Supreme leader Ali Khamenei.'

Aleppo is Besieged and Burning from Chlorine Attack

 Bilal Abdul Kareem: "The smell of chlorine is very strong here..."

Syrian civil society survives amid the rubble

A youth center in Daraarun by Baytna Syria

 'Beneath the rubble and burning buildings of Syria's civil war exists a small women's center in the Al-Mashhad neighborhood of Aleppo. Last July, the grounds above the center were barrel bombed three times. Bashar Assad's regime has repeatedly used these bombs indiscriminately, and discriminately, to level infrastructure and kill thousands of civilians.

 "We don't understand why [the regime] wanted to bomb our center and kill us," said Bakri Kaakeh, the CEO of Silkroad, a local civil society group that administers the center.
Silkroad is one of many local civil society groups that have established initiatives to promote democracy in opposition-controlled parts of the country. Those who work in these organizations put their lives on the line. They have crossed in and out of Syria to administer schools, youth centers, hospitals, bakeries and vocational centers, all of which have been systematically targeted by regime forces and extremist groups in the country.
 After Syria's Baath Party assumed power in 1963, the government set up state-funded associations while barring the establishment of any independent organizations. Syrian activists continue to be arrested, tortured and murdered today. Yet due to their perseverance, civil society may have expanded more during five years of conflict than it did in almost five decades under Baathist rule.
 One lifeline for many civil society groups is an organization called Baytna Syria - "Syria, our home" - which aims to build a community of active citizens while financing an array of community projects in opposition-controlled areas.
 During the early stages of the uprising against Assad's regime, demonstrations were repressed and activists were often hunted and executed. Many others were killed by barrel bombs and regime snipers along with the very people they were trying to help. The "Islamic State" group, which didn't announce its presence in Syria until April 2013, has executed numerous media activists and dissenters.
Other opposition groups in the north of Syria have coerced, restricted and even threatened activists in the area. Achi recalled a time when Baytna Syria had to cancel a project to finance a youth center in Idlib after Jabhat Fateh al Sham - previously known as al-Nusra Front - threatened to kill the man who was supposed to oversee the center when it opened. The setback was a reminder of how fear and violence shape all aspects of life in Syria today.
"We only had four incidents out of the 84 projects we've supported in 15 months. Overall I think we been pretty successful in evading risks," said Assaad Al Achi, executive director of Baytna Syria. "Part of it is risk management, but part of it is luck as well. When the regime is dropping a barrel bomb, it's either a hit or miss."
 Many activists, however, haven't been as lucky. Razan Zeiytouneh, a human rights lawyer who ran the Violations Documentation Center, a network that monitored the deaths and violations of opposition and regime forces, was abducted along with three of her colleagues in December 2013. There has been no news of them since.
 Tammam Al Jamous, one of the founding board members of Ghosun Zeiytoun - "olive branch" in English - said three people in his organization had died from indiscriminate attacks by the regime.
 Ghosun Zeiytoun was first formed to create safe spaces for children while helping to keep schools running. One of their first initiatives, Al Jamous explained, was to send teachers basic necessities to allow them to keep working since the conflict prevented them from retrieving their salaries. The group has also provided children with language and software classes as well as first-aid training.
  "We want freedom for Syria and we want a democracy," he said. "The partnership we have with Baytna Syria has been one of the most successful we've ever had. They are Syrian [so unlike some international donors] they know the exact situation in the country and the risks."
 Activists who first mobilized to coordinate demonstrations have managed to build small institutions, helping bring a semblance of normalcy to life in parts of the beleaguered country. Their defiance alone has put them on at least one hit list.
 "Any action we carried out without the regime's permission means we're terrorists [in their eyes], Al Jamous said. "But we won't stop. We are promoting a language of peace. "We promised our friends [who died] that we would continue their work for them." '

Sunday, 4 September 2016

To Syrian Alawis: We have no hostility to you but only to the régime

 Message of the heroes in the Hama countryside: "To Syrian Alawis: We have no hostility to you but only to the régime... anyone who helps us or remains in his home or raises a white flag will be safe... the safety of women and children and old men is assured... as for the foreign mercenaries, our behaviour with them may well be different... we aren't the 'opposition', don't fool yourselves, the 'opposition' competes for seats in parliament, no, we are the revolution... and in this country it will either be the revolution or the regime."