Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

A decision before dinner which Obama would have taken 2 years not to make

April 7, 2017

Risk-filled, reactive, unpredictable, dangerous. No doubt.

But decisive.

In the business and entrepreneurial world it is an axiom that speed of decision is the critical factor but must be accompanied by immense flexibility for course corrections. Few decisions are wholly good or wholly bad. The key is to be “in motion” which allows course corrections – and even U-turns – to be made. Altering any course is impossible if the engine is not running. But the worst case scenario nearly always involves decisions taken too late.

My opinion that Trump has few – if any – ideological hangups but is only a pragmatist is only reinforced by his Syria strikes on the Al Shayrat airfield.

Can business-style decision making work in international politics? That is the question.

But the contrast to Obama’s paralysis by analysis, his unending deliberation and overwhelming risk aversion could not be more stark.

Wall Street Journal:

President Donald Trump’s decision to order military strikes in Syria sets his presidency on a new and unpredictable course that is likely to shape his time in office.

Faced with his first major foreign-policy test—a moment that confronts every new president—Mr. Trump demonstrated a comfort with military action and a flexibility in approach that saw him change course not only on comments he made in the campaign but also on his policy toward Syria in just 48 hours after seeing gruesome photographic evidence from the Asssad regime’s chemical-weapons attack Tuesday.

His decision drew support from Republican and Democratic lawmakers who have long called for stronger U.S. action in Syria.  

But with his message delivered both in missiles and in a presidential address from behind a podium at his private resort in Florida, Mr. Trump faces the difficult choice his predecessor and other world leaders have grappled with for years: Now what? It’s the question that repeatedly led President Barack Obama to decide against deeper military involvement in Syria.

Just three months into his presidency Mr. Trump will have to find his own answer. He has to confront a litany of risky unknowns.

It is unclear how the Assad regime, or its allies Russia and Iran, will react. It is unclear whether Mr. Trump intends to move the U.S. more forcefully into the Syrian conflict—committing the U.S. military to greater engagement in the Middle East—or whether he plans to hold back beyond sending a signal that the use of chemical weapons won’t be tolerated by the White House.

One message was clear: Mr. Trump is willing to use force and to make decisions swiftly when he is moved to act.

“Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow, brutal death for so many,” Mr. Trump said in a national address. “No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”

It is a dramatic shift from Mr. Obama, who deliberated at length over military decisions and resisted years of calls for a deeper U.S. military involvement in Syria to help bring the conflict to an end. During his own election campaign, Mr. Trump suggested the U.S. should leave conflicts such as the one in Syria for other nations to resolve, including Russia.

The missile strikes mark an early turning point in Mr. Trump’s presidency. It is his first major military order as commander in chief. But it is also the first military decision of consequence that Americans and the world have seen him make after otherwise fitful first weeks as president, which have been marred by controversy and infighting in his own party.

Mr. Trump had in many ways compelled himself to act by vowing on Wednesday to retaliate for the gas attack. He had limited other options given Mr. Obama had cut a deal with the Assad regime, brokered by Russia, to remove its chemical-weapons stockpile instead of launching military action.

Interesting times indeed.


 

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Will the EU fall in line when Trump joins with Russia and Turkey in Syria?

January 22, 2017

In 2011 the US, many EU countries (especially France), Turkey and Saudi Arabia started financing and providing weapons to anti-Assad groups in Syria. Many of these groups were, or were allied to, terrorist groups which have in turn warped to become ISIS or al Qaida or the Al Nusrah front. This support was instrumental in helping ISIS to grow into the monster it became. The focus was entirely one of regime change and the downfall of Assad. The EU countries even “encouraged” some of their more radical Muslim groups to send “freedom fighters” to Syria expecting that Assad would soon disappear. Instead these “freedom fighters” soon became willing recruits for ISIS and other terrorist groups. At that time the Russians and Iranians supported Assad but rather passively and through surrogates rather than directly.

Russian support (along with that from Iran and Hisbollah) kept Assad alive in a shrinking territory. Neither the US nor the EU was willing to put its own troops on the ground. With Obama’s risk aversion (indecision) and shifting red lines Assad was spared any knock-out blow. With the growing ISIS threat the Russians finally intervened directly (2014) and turned the tide for Assad and against ISIS. The beginning of the end for ISIS was when Turkey left the US strategy and joined the Russians (and Iran). Aleppo was retaken. ISIS still holds Mosul in Iraq.

Now it looks like the new US administration may very well acquiesce with, if not fully join, the Russian strategy. The US will probably now stop supporting the rebel, anti-Assad factions even though some of them are not allied with the terrorist groups (though many are).

As Trump takes over, a diminished ISIS awaits

ISIS’ caliphate shrinks in 2016 ISIS is losing ground across its self-proclaimed caliphate, according to a new report. Global intelligence and analysis firm IHS Conflict Monitor, which uses open-source intelligence including social media and on-the-ground sources, estimates that ISIS lost 17,600 square kilometers (6,800 square miles) of the land it held in Iraq and Syria over 2016. ISIS’ caliphate in the two countries shrunk by 23% over the course of the year, according to a survey and map released by IHS. The group lost 34% in the same region compared to January 2015. The US-led coalition say ISIS has lost 27% of its territory in Syria — and 61% in Iraq — from its peak. 

In addition to ISIS’ de facto capital of Raqqa, the militant group retains patches of land not far from Homs and around the ancient city of Palmyra — control of which it regained from the Syrian regime late last year. It also has a presence in the countryside around the eastern city of Deir Ezzor. IHS reported spikes in territory lost by ISIS when the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, took control of the strategic city of Ash Shaddadi in March, moved on to Manbij in May, and in mid-October when Euphrates Shield, Turkey’s ground operation against ISIS in Syria, retook the symbolically significant town of Dabiq.

But what will the EU do now?

I expect that the UK will align itself behind Trump (and that alignment in other areas has already started as Teresa May starts implementing Brexit). With elections coming up in France, Hollande may not have much room to continue with his misguided support of his favourite rebel groups. Merkel is also facing elections and her open door policy has allowed – or is perceived to have allowed – many of the European Muslim, ISIS murderers to return to Europe. Nice and Berlin can be connected to that. My guess is that a splintered and fractured EU will do little and just gradually allow its once strong support of rebel groups to wither away.

Mohamad Bazzi has an insightful commentary in Reuters:

Islamic State lashes out as Turkey flirts with Russia

…. Islamic State is also lashing out at a new and burgeoning Turkish-Russian alliance, which is one of the main factors reshaping the Syrian war today. In late 2016, Turkey backed away from supporting Syrian rebels in Aleppo, which helped the Assad regime and its allies – including Russia, Iran and Shi’ite militias from Lebanon and Iraq – to force rebels from their strongholds in eastern Aleppo and regain full control of the city. In mid-December, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he was working with Turkish leaders to negotiate a new ceasefire between Assad and rebel groups, and to organize a fresh round of Syrian peace talks without Washington’s involvement. The talks are scheduled to start on Jan. 23 in Kazakhstan.

The Syrian conflict has turned into a proxy war that involves regional and world powers – including the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – whose interests sometimes overlap, but at other times lead to multiple conflicts. Soon after the war began in 2011, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United States started sending weapons and funds to rebel groups trying to topple Assad’s regime. Some of these rebels were forced into battlefield or tactical alliances with al Qaeda affiliated groups and other jihadists. More recently, Washington has shifted its focus to fighting Islamic State rather than ousting the Syrian regime. Assad’s two main backers, Russia and Iran, are mainly targeting rebel factions opposed to the regime, rather than trying to defeat Islamic State. ……..

…….. Turkish troops and allied rebels are trying to push Islamic State fighters from Al-Bab, a town north of Aleppo, and one of the jihadists’ last holdouts near the Turkish border. But Turkish forces are bogged down in an unexpectedly grueling battle: About 50 soldiers have been killed since Ankara sent its forces into Syria in August, including 16 killed in a single day during an Islamic State counter-attack in Al-Bab.

The battle for Al-Bab is causing other complications and setting up a potential battle between Turkish-backed Syrian rebels and American-supported Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (known by its Kurdish acronym, YPG). The YPG is part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of rebel groups, which is leading a ground offensive of 30,000 fighters to oust Islamic State from the city of Raqqa, capital of its self-proclaimed caliphate. The campaign is supported by U.S. air strikes and more than 500 special forces who are helping the rebels gain ground.

In late December, Turkish leaders complained that Washington was not providing similar air support to help Turkish troops advance in Al-Bab. Within days, Russia began coordinating with the Turkish military and carrying out air strikes in the area.

In flirting with Russia, Erdogan’s government is sending a message to the incoming Donald Trump administration that Ankara has other options if the United States continues its support of Syrian Kurdish factions. But as it gets closer to Russia and more deeply involved in fighting Islamic State, Turkey risks incurring the group’s wrath.

Left wing and socialist governments in Europe have been particularly supportive of Palestine and anti-Israel to the verge of being anti-Semitic. (All European socialist parties have a strong anti-Semitic thread which has been hiding under a pro-Palestine, anti-Israel cloak). This support has not only been political but has also provided money for would-be terrorists from Europe. If Trump now moves the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the balance will shift away from the two-state solution, which cannot work, and the EU will face another dilemma.

A US / Russia alliance in the Middle East is a game changer and the EU is too slow, too fractured, too smug and too self-righteous to even realise when the game has changed.


 

Anti-Israel “peace” conference in Paris today to pursue a non-viable two-state solution

January 14, 2017

Representatives of 72 countries (but not of Israel or Palestine) will  meet at the French-hosted “peace” conference starting in Paris today. Even John Kerry will attend. But the two-state solution they seek can never work. It is essentially an anti-Israel (even if not all participants are anti-Semitic) conference which will seek to “impose”  a stop to settlements and promote a two-state solution. It may even be followed up  with some new resolution against Israel next week before the Obama administration exits the stage. In fact some think that the peace conference itself may produce a document which Kerry signs, and which contains text that tries to preempt any future US actions supporting Israel.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have been invited to come to France after the conference to learn of its conclusions, the French news agency AFP reported. Netanyahu, who has criticized the process, saying only direct negotiations between the two parties will be effective, has said he will not travel to Paris.

The Obama/Clinton, Obama/Kerry catastrophes in the Middle East have been particularly spectacular. (As of writing the Syrian cease fire is still holding and that is thanks to first, the absence of US involvement and second, the cooperation between Turkey, Russia and Iran). The Paris meeting may be the culmination of 8 years of failed US Middle East policy.

AP writes:

The Obama administration’s eight years of unsuccessful Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy will come to a crashing end this weekend, with chances for a Mideast peace deal at perhaps their lowest ebb in a generation. A Paris peace conference attended by Secretary of State John Kerry isn’t expected to produce any tangible progress.

At a time when President-elect Donald Trump’s administration is promising a fundamental shift toward Israel, the State Department said Kerry was only participating in the French-hosted event to ensure America’s interest in a two-state solution to the conflict is preserved. The blunt statement reinforced the dwindling hopes for a diplomatic breakthrough.

Kerry “feels obliged to be there because we have an interest in advancing a two-state solution, and we also have an interest in ensuring that whatever happens in this conference is constructive and balanced,” department spokesman Mark Toner said. …….

Kerry’s biggest decision in Paris may be a political one: Whether to sign the concluding document if it includes a specific warning to Trump against moving the embassy. The Palestinians, Arab nations and others are pushing the issue, fearing the U.S. move could spark a new conflagration in an already inflamed region. French officials say the warning could be in the document.

Kerry’s signature would be a shot across the bow of Trump’s foreign policy and further undercut President Barack Obama’s promises for a smooth transition of power. Republicans and even many Democratic lawmakers reacted angrily to the administration’s U.N. vote in December and a subsequent speech by Kerry on the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. The House of Representatives even condemned the Security Council resolution.

Israel is bracing for a new U.S. policy. On Friday, the West Bank settlers’ council said it will send a delegation to Trump’s presidential inauguration next week after receiving an invitation.

To find a solution requires the game to be changed.

I think it is time to abandon the two-state solution. A one state solution (which would have an inbuilt Palestinian majority) is also a non starter. But a single Federalist state containing a number of semi-autonomous states, and where the Jewish majority states structurally would outnumber the Muslim majority states could be a way out. For example 2 West Bank states with Muslim majorities, Gaza with a Muslim majority and 5 Jewish majority states could then give 8 states in a Federal configuration. The autonomy of the individual states could be similar to that of the US states.

A Federal Israel? with 5 Jewish and 3 Muslim states?

A Federal Israel? with 5 Jewish and 3 Muslim states?


Obama abandons Israel (to try and tie Trump’s hands?)

December 23, 2016

After the fanfare and hope and great expectations when Obama arrived 8 years ago, his departure is becoming a sad, graceless, spiteful, whingeing affair. He seems most interested in now trying to tie Donald Trump’s hands in the few weeks he has left.

For the first time in at least 8 years, the US abstained and declined to veto an anti-Israel resolution at the UN Security Council. But the result will only serve to weaken the UN and pander to Trump’s desire to pull back from it.

In Israel’s eyes Obama has clearly sided with the terrorists.

Reuters:

After the United States abstained from voting, the U.N. Security Council on Friday passed a resolution demanding Israel stop building settlements on occupied Palestinian territory, a reversal of U.S. practice to protect Israel from United Nations action.

The resolution was put forward at the 15-member council for a vote on Friday by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal a day after Egypt withdrew it under pressure from Israel and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. Israel and Trump had called on the United States to veto the measure. 

It was adopted with 14 votes in favor, to a round of applause. It is the first resolution the Security Council has adopted on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years.

There are reports that the US State Department helped to draft the anti-Israel resolution. The Palestine issue can only be solved by Israel and Palestine. The UN is a distraction and this resolution is likely not only to be counter-productive but to weaken the UN itself (which may, of course, be a good thing).

The US abstention was by Ambassador Samantha Power who has a history of being hostile to Israel.

WikipediaWhen asked what advice she would give to the president if either the Israelis or Palestinians looked “like they might be moving toward genocide,” Power said that the United States might consider the deployment of a “mammoth protection force” to monitor developments between the Israelis and Palestinians, characterizing it as a regrettable but necessary “imposition of a solution on unwilling parties,” and “the lesser of evils.”

She was also in the news in April this year when an armoured jeep in her motorcade ran over and killed a child in Cameroon and declined to stop. Of course she apologised later.

UN ambassador Samantha Power’s motorcade kills child in Cameroon


 

US and EU sidelined as Turkey, Iran and Russia sign Syria declaration

December 21, 2016

The opposition to Assad was primarily fueled (and maybe even initiated) by the EU and the US. It was a regime-change exercise where the expectations of the various rebel groups that Assad would be quickly overthrown did not materialise. The Obama/Kerry engagement in Syria can be characterised as being based on wishful thinking and without any implementable strategy.

Until the Russians intervened ISIS, the Al Nusrah front, Al Qaida and other diverse extremist and rebel groups were making daily gains. Turkey of course dislikes Assad, does not like any Kurdish success which helps the formation of a Kurdistan – or at least a Kurdistan which would include any part of Turkey. Nevertheless Turkey sees benefit in allying with Russia rather than with NATO – mainly because they always play both sides against the middle and certainly want to be part of any winning Russian coalition.

In any event, the EU and the US have had to accept a humiliating defeat of the opposition groups they supported in Aleppo. The French in particular have been extremely upset by the reverse suffered by their surrogates. (The attempt by Iraqi forces to retake Mosul with US support continues).

It has got to the point where now Iran and Russia and Turkey (along with Assad’s representatives) arrange meetings about the future of Syria where the EU and the US are not even invited.

But of course the EU and the US are full of high moral platitudes but have made it quite clear that they are not prepared to ‘walk their own talk’.

Countercurrents:

Yesterday, top Russian, Turkish, and Iranian officials met in Moscow and signed a declaration they billed as ending the US-instigated war in Syria. Coming after Russian-backed Syrian army units captured the key city of Aleppo from US-backed Islamist fighters, the deal shows that moves to improve ties between the three countries are continuing despite Monday’s assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov.

“Today, experts are working on the text of the Moscow declaration on immediate steps towards resolving the Syrian crisis. It is a thorough, extremely necessary document,” Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Dehghan.

Shoigu dismissed US and European initiatives in Syria, declaring that “attempts to agree on joint efforts undertaken by the US or their partners were doomed. … None of them exerted real influence on the situation on the ground.”

The initiative was hailed by officials from Turkey, in a sharp turnaround from Turkey’s support for US-backed Islamist opposition militias in the early years of the war. “Now we are observing a very successful operation to liberate eastern Aleppo from fighters, the evacuation of the families of the opposition from Aleppo,” said Turkish National Defence Minister Fikri Işık.

Meeting with his Russian and Iranian counterparts, Sergei Lavrov and Javad Zarif, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said cooperation between Russia, Turkey, and Iran had “brought about definite successes” in Aleppo. He said he hoped “to spread it to other districts of Syria.”

The expulsion of the Islamist opposition from Aleppo and developing collaboration between Moscow, Ankara, and Tehran mark a major setback for Washington and its European allies. For five years, US imperialism tried to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by backing Islamist militias, a strategy it later expanded to include backing Kurdish nationalist forces in Syria, as well. While this operation was marketed as a revolution in the US and European media, it collapsed because the US-backed forces lacked any real popular support.

Though Turkey is a NATO ally of the United States, Ankara is reacting to the victory of the Syrian regime, Russia, and Iran in Aleppo by developing ever closer ties to Russia. During the launch of a Turkish-Russian joint investigation into Karlov’s murder, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara and Moscow would “not let anyone harm Turkish-Russian relations.” …….

It could well be that if Trump’s administration starts a pull-back from NATO expansionism, the much feared departure of Turkey from NATO could be on the cards again.

…… Amid escalating damage to the Turkish economy and fears that NATO allies, notably in Europe, might not intervene to aid Turkey in a war with Russia, the Turkish regime shifted its foreign policy. It began mentioning a possible rapprochement with Russia and the Syrian regime. In May 2016, Erdogan discharged his prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, who had previously declared that he ordered the shooting down of the Russian fighter, and apologized to Russia.

This set the stage for Washington and Berlin to tacitly back a coup attempt that nearly succeeded against Erdogan on July 15, and which Ankara blamed on Gülen’s movement. It was reportedly averted thanks to timely warnings from Russia. This inflamed the already explosive tensions not only inside Turkey, but above all, between Erdogan’s government and the major NATO powers.

The Turkish government has reacted by manoeuvring ever more desperately between its ostensible allies in NATO and the major Eurasian powers, Russia and China. In recent months, amid growing economic ties between China and Turkey, Erdogan has repeatedly declared that Turkey might join the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), claiming this would allow Ankara “to act more freely.”

This drew a sharp reaction from NATO. Visiting Istanbul last month for the NATO Parliamentarians Assembly, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg met with Erdogan and said, “I am sure Turkey will do nothing that could impair the concept of joint defence … and NATO unity.”

Above all, however, Ankara sought closer ties to Russia. Earlier this month, the Russian and Turkish prime ministers, Dmitri Medvedev and Binali Yildirim, met in Moscow. They agreed that “the normalization of the Syrian situation is a priority task for our countries and it will definitely serve to the benefit of the whole region, not to mention Syria, which is currently in a very complicated situation.”

On December 6, Yildirim criticized NATO for “hesitation” and “foot-dragging” in Syria: “Nice words are exchanged about defending civilization against terrorism. But the big terrorist networks challenging us today operate across borders.” He described the Turkish-Russian initiative as a push for a “forceful and united international front to eradicate terrorism.”

Turkey, Russia, Iran Sign Deal On Syria

Turkey, Russia, Iran Sign Deal On Syria


 

ISIS has given up on the Caliphate and is focused on terror attacks in Europe

December 21, 2016

After Berlin, I recalled this broadcast on Swedish Radio just a few days ago. It would seem that the reverses they have suffered in Iraq and Syria and even Libya have caused a shift of focus within ISIS. A shift away from their dreams of establishing a Caliphate within their lifetimes to creating a parallel, segregated, Islamic population in Europe. Their focus has shifted from directing their European supporters to travel to the front line in the Middle East to instead, implementing terror attacks wherever they happen to be; in place, in Europe.

The Berlin terrorist is still at large. And so are many others – plucking up the nerve to kill indiscriminately. Berlin will be followed by other Islamic, Sunni Muslim, terrorist acts. Islamophobia is not the cause but the inevitable consequence. But a healthy dose of Islamo-skepticism – and amounting to terroristphobia – is absolutely necessary if Islamic terrorism is to be neutralised.

Swedish Radio:

As the Islamic State loses territory in Iraq, Syria and Libya, the group’s propaganda changed. The terror group  no longer invites their sympathizers to go to war. Reporter Fernando Arias is in conversation with Robert Egnell, a Professor at the National Defence University, about the terror group’s propaganda.

“It is too early to say what the effects are of the IS reversal of its propaganda”, says Robert Egnell. According to Robert Egnell propaganda has been important to recruit for the Islamic State and what they call their Caliphate. But now the propaganda has changed, he says, and points to three major differences with earlier:

  1. it has reduced in scale over the past year,
  2. it is more concerned with calls to take the fight where one is, and
  3. the positive images of the Caliphate has almost disappeared.

“It’s about being able to show a positive image that can attract. Previously, it has been the Caliphate and the dream of a better life, but it is difficult to show such images today when all the media coverage points to the contrary, and instead must then create success through terrorist attacks and publicise them” said Robert Egnell.

Several intelligence services report that fewer are travelling to Syria and Iraq, but we have yet to see the final effects of the reversal of IS propaganda on terrorists in place in Europe, according to Robert Egnell.

“We have had an increase of attacks in Europe, but it probably can not be linked so directly to just the propaganda, but it can probably rather be linked to a new IS strategy to focus on Europe”, he says.

Is it such a great difference that that people are now encouraged to carry out attacks at home instead of traveling to Iraq and Syria?

“Yes, it’s a very important distinction, and it is perhaps something to hope for. The threshold is much higher for committing acts of violence in the home country compared to follow a new dream of the Caliphate. This provided a kind of positive appeal to a certain type of people, and now there is only death and destruction (in the Caliphate). In a society they have grown up in, one can hope that the threshold (to act) is significantly higher than making the trip down to Syria and fighting for some ’cause’ “.

But the Caliphate dreams are certainly shrinking.

Shrinking Caliphate dreams

Shrinking Caliphate dreams


 

Russia accuses US coalition of assisting ISIS attack Palmyra to save Al-Nusra front rebels in Aleppo

December 13, 2016

What has been apparent is that the US led coalition (and France in particular) have a lot vested with the Assad-rebels holed up in Aleppo. France has been particularly active in trying to get the Russians and Assad’s forces to agree to a cease-fire in Aleppo – ostensibly for humanitarian aid – but also for relieving the besieged rebels that they support. Of course the US coalition attacking Mosul in Iraq have not been quite so concerned about the civilians being used as human shields by ISIS.

Of course this could just be Russian propaganda but there is some logic to their claim that the US-led coalition have allowed ISIS forces from Mosul to attack Palmyra to try and force Assad’s forces away from retaking Aleppo and instead to defend Palmyra. It is not inconceivable that the US and France are quite desperate to save the Al-Nusra front rebels they support and are even prepared to ease off on ISIS to that end:

RT: 

A new Islamic State attack on Palmyra from the Mosul region could be ‘orchestrated’ to divert the attention of Syrian government forces from Aleppo and spare the militants entrenched in the city, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

The fact that Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL) militants launched their offensive on Palmyra from Iraq and “apparently from Mosul” and marched through the “territories patrolled by the aircraft of the US-led coalition makes one think that – and I really hope to be wrong here – that it was orchestrated and coordinated to give a respite to those thugs, who are entrenched in eastern Aleppo,” the foreign minister said during a press conference in Belgrade, Serbia, as he answered a question asked by RT. 

Lavrov went on to say that the US has been conducting a two-faced policy towards terrorist groups in Syria from the very beginning of the Syrian crisis. The US-led coalition is fighting Islamic State but is studiously avoiding targeting another terrorist group, which is Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front, he said.

“There is a significant number of reasons to believe that [Al-Nusra] is being spared as the most effective combat-capable force, which opposes the governmental [forces] of the ground in order to be used for overthrowing the legitimate Syrian government when the time comes,” Lavrov told journalists. …..

That the US is – even now – focused on regime change in Syria and is trying to assist the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front is not at all illogical. The Obama/Kerry strategy in Syria and Iraq is a maze of inconsistencies and fundamentally flawed.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this Russian report held a great deal of truth.


 

Aleppo almost retaken but Mosul must wait for a while

December 9, 2016

The ongoing downfall of ISIS really only began with the Russian intervention in Syria. Even in Iraq, the gradual success against ISIS only really took hold once the Russians showed the resolve in Syria. It has been a repudiation of the absence of an Obama/Kerry strategy. It has also shown quite clearly that it was the US/NATO/ France/UK/ EU/ Turkey obsession with getting rid of Assad which allowed ISIS to grow and then prevented any effective strategy against ISIS from being implemented.

Now Aleppo and its Al Qaeda/ISIS related rebel groups are on the verge of being driven out by Syrian troops with Russian support. In Mosul what was intended to be a liberation of the city – in time for a Clinton success at the US General election – has progressed much more slowly than expected. It has stalled from time to time and it may not even be complete before Obama leaves office. The retaking of Aleppo cannot strictly be compared with retaking Mosul, but it does reconfirm the differences between first, the resolve of Assad’s Syrian troops and the Iraqi army, and second, the difference between the US and Russian implementation of strategies.

Two Reuters reports today caught my eye:

Syrian army’s Aleppo advance slows, but victory in sight

The Syrian army’s advance in Aleppo slowed on Thursday but a victory was still firmly in sight after President Bashar al-Assad vowed that retaking the city would change the course of the six-year-old war. Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying the Syrian army, which has captured territory including Aleppo’s historic Old City in recent days, had halted military activity to let civilians leave rebel-held territory. 

The last two weeks have seen rebels driven from most of their territory in what was once Syria’s largest city, the eastern section of which the insurgents have controlled since 2012. Although there are still many rural areas in rebel hands, Aleppo is their last big urban redoubt. The prospect of its fall, following months of government gains elsewhere, has brought Assad closer to victory than at any point since the early months of a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands and made half of Syrians homeless.

“Aleppo will completely change the course of the battle in all of Syria,” Assad said, speaking in an interview with the Syrian newspaper al-Watan.

Iraqi troops pull out from Mosul hospital after fierce battle

Iraqi troops who briefly seized a Mosul hospital believed to be used as an Islamic State base were forced to withdraw from the site, but managed to establish a base for army tanks nearby after days of fierce back-and-forth fighting, residents said.

The rapid advance into the Wahda neighborhood where the hospital is located marked a change of tactic after a month of fighting in east Mosul in which the army has sought to capture and clear neighborhoods block by block.

The ferocity of the fighting reflects the importance of the army’s push from southeast Mosul towards the center, their deepest advance in a grueling seven-week offensive to crush Islamic State in Iraq’s largest northern city.

The soldiers seized Salam hospital, less than a mile (just over 1 km) from the Tigris river running through central Mosul, on Tuesday but pulled back the next day after they were attacked by six suicide car bombs and “heavy enemy fire”, according to a statement by the U.S.-led coalition supporting Iraqi forces.

Coalition warplanes, at Iraq’s request, also struck a building inside the hospital complex from which the militants were firing machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, it said.

The soldiers involved in the action are at the spearhead of a U.S.-backed, 100,000-strong coalition of Iraqi forces including the army, federal police, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and mainly Shi’ite Popular Mobilization forces battling to crush Islamic State in Mosul.

Mosul may still take some time but that it will be retaken before too long  seems almost certain.


 

Western backed rebels/terrorists in East Aleppo are holding civilians hostage just as ISIS is doing in Mosul

October 26, 2016

The rebels and terrorists in East Aleppo are largely financed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, the US and the EU. They are holding civilians hostage and as “human shields” against Assad’s forces supported by Russian air power just as ISIS is preventing civilians from leaving Mosul. The media rhetoric about ISIS and Mosul is equally applicable to East Aleppo, but the difference which changes the media narrative is that the loss of Aleppo by the Western-supported rebels would be a very visible confirmation of the failure of the US/EU strategy of fomenting regime change in Syria.

Black Photo

Virginia Senator Richard Black

The Russian view of things in this interview with Virginia Senator Richard Black makes interesting reading. Even discounting the propaganda factor, the regime-change objectives in Syria have demonstrated the shallowness and wishful thinking that has dominated the US/EU strategies.

RT:The US and its allies could order their terrorist proxies in Aleppo to allow civilians to leave, but instead use them as hostages to escalate anti-Russia rhetoric in a bid to prevent the fall of the rebel stronghold, Virginia Senator Richard Black told RT.

…… The fact is when he (John Kerry) gave that speech, he was sitting next to Saudi Foreign Minister al-Jubeir, and Saudi Arabia has funded ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Al-Nusra – which is Al-Qaeda in Syria, a coordinating group within the Aleppo pocket in East Aleppo.

They have forbidden the civilians from leaving, using the civilians as a human shield, because they know that it forces Syria and Russia to be much more cautious with the bombing. You know, the hyperbolic language used by Secretary Kerry is really outrageous, because the United Nations Office of Human Affairs announced that in the two weeks between September 23 and October 8, there have been about 406 civilians killed. 

No one wants any civilians killed, but I’ve got to tell you, if you compare that to the American casualty figures during our invasion of Iraq, during that first year period, we killed approximately 100,000 civilians. So you’re talking about 406 versus 100,000. Frankly, I don’t know whether they taught arithmetic at Yale University, but Secretary Kerry, his rhetoric is terribly overblown.

There’s no doubt that the civilians are being killed in the east, there are significant numbers being killed in the west, and the civilians killed in the west are being deliberately killed and deliberately targeted as civilians. Whereas those in the east are simply being killed because they happen to be on the battlefield.

The combatants who are holding out in east Aleppo are financed and controlled by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and the United States. These powers have the ability to pressure the rebels to, say, get the civilians off the battlefield. Syria has allowed seven exit points, and made it very clear that they will care for, give medical attention, food, housing to all civilians who leave. It is what I call the axis power, the axis of evil – Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar. These are the people who are holding the civilians as human hostages, so that they can force Syria and Russia to take additional casualties as they conquer this final pocket of rebels within Aleppo. …….

……… The heart and soul of the Army of Conquest is Al-Nusra, which is Al-Qaeda in Syria. The Army of Conquest was set up by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, they have joint command headquarters in Idlib, Syria, and they command the whole operation in east Aleppo. If Saudi Arabia and Turkey gave order that the civilians were to leave, then the civilians would be allowed to leave, they would be welcomed by the Syrian government and be cared for. …..,


Western media treatment of East Aleppo and Mosul is hypocrisy in action

October 23, 2016

The Western media (US and Europe) have views about the Middle East which are more than a little coloured by the self induced delusion that the US and Europe are on a righteous crusade against oppression and for the promotion of democracy. That has been and still is the overwhelming view from the time of the first Iraq war, the overthrow of Gaddaffi and all through the Arab spring uprisings in North Africa and now in Syria and Iraq again. That Europe and the US have not just encouraged and supported, but also instigated rebel groups to the prevailing regimes, to the point of recklessness is completely forgotten. Many of the rebel groups (including ISIS and Al-Nusra) would not have dared to begin their blood-letting without the false hopes raised by the Saudi money and the US/NATO/EU support. (It is the same pattern of reckless EU/NATO expansionism – but without the Saudi money – which prevailed in Ukraine and led to the Russian aggression and annexation of the Crimea). This “political correctness” is now blatantly apparent in the difference of media treatment to the assaults on East Aleppo in Syria and on Mosul in Iraq.

Patrick Cockburn has this in The Unz Review (originally in The Independent):

In Libya, Gaddafi was demonised as the sole cause of all his country’s ills while his opponents were lauded as valiant freedom fighters whose victory would bring liberal democracy to the Libyan people. Instead, as was fairly predictable, the overthrow of Gaddafi rapidly reduced Libya to a violent and criminalised anarchy with little likelihood of recovery.

In present day Syria and Iraq one can see much the same process at work. In both countries, two large Sunni Arab urban centres – East Aleppo in Syria and Mosul in Iraq – are being besieged by pro-government forces strongly supported by foreign airpower. In East Aleppo, some 250,000 civilians and 8,000 insurgents, are under attack by the Syrian Army allied to Shia paramilitaries from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon and supported by the Russian and Syrian air forces. The bombing of East Aleppo has rightly caused worldwide revulsion and condemnation.

But look at how differently the international media is treating a similar situation in Mosul, 300 miles east of Aleppo, where one million people and an estimated 5,000 Isis fighters are being encircled by the Iraqi army fighting alongside Kurdish Peshmerga and Shia and Sunni paramilitaries and with massive support from a US-led air campaign. In the case of Mosul, unlike Aleppo, the defenders are to blame for endangering civilians by using them as human shields and preventing them leaving. In East Aleppo, fortunately, there are no human shields – though the UN says that half the civilian population wants to depart – but simply innocent victims of Russian savagery.

Destruction in Aleppo by Russian air strikes is compared to the destruction of Grozny in Chechnya sixteen years ago, but, curiously, no analogy is made with Ramadi, a city of 350,000 on the Euphrates in Iraq, that was 80 per cent destroyed by US-led air strikes in 2015. Parallels go further: civilians trapped in East Aleppo are understandably terrified of what the Syrian Mukhabara secret police would do to them if they leave and try to pass through Syrian government checkpoints. ……

…….

The advance on Mosul is being led by the elite Special Forces of the Iraqi counter-terrorism units and Shia militias are not supposed to enter the city, almost all of whose current inhabitants are Sunni Arabs. But in the last few days these same special forces entered the town of Bartella on the main road twelve miles from Mosul in their black Humvees which were reportedly decorated with Shia religious banners. Kurdish troops asked them to remove the banners and they refused. An Iraqi soldier named Ali Saad was quoted as saying: “(T)hey asked if we were militias. We said we’re not militias, we are Iraqi forces and these are our beliefs.”

It may be that Isis will not fight for Mosul, but the probability is that they will, in which case the outlook will not be good for the civilian population. Isis did not fight to the last man in Fallujah west of Baghdad so much of the city is intact, but they did fight for Khalidiya, a nearby town of 30,000, where today only four buildings are still standing according to the Americans.

The extreme bias shown in foreign media coverage of similar events in Iraq and Syria will be a rewarding subject for PhDs students looking at the uses and abuses of propaganda down the ages.

This has been the pattern of reporting of the wars in Syria and Iraq over the last five years. Nothing much has changed since 2003 when the Iraqi opposition to Saddam Hussein had persuaded foreign governments and media alike that the invading American and British armies would be greeted with rapture by the Iraqi people. A year later the invaders were fighting for their lives. Misled by opposition propagandists and their own wishful thinking, foreign government officials and journalists had wholly misread the local political landscape. Much the same thing is happening today.


 


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