The Airwars.org U.K.-based monitoring group reports that 41 U.S-led air strikes targeting ISIS in Iraq and Syria killed at least 296 civilians during the week after the chemical weapons incident on April 4. U.S. cruise missiles reportedly killed another nine civilians in villages near the Shayrat airbase that was targeted on April 7th.
But the fragmentary reports compiled by Airwars.org can only reveal a fraction of the true numbers of civilians killed by U.S. and allied bombing in Iraq and Syria. These are only the minimum numbers of civilians killed in 41 of the 178 air strikes reported by the U.S military that week.
In other war zones, when such compilations of “passive” reports have been followed up by more comprehensive, scientific mortality studies, the true number of civilians killed has proved to be between 5 and 20 times higher than numbers previously reported by “passive” methods. [For a fuller discussion of the differences between passive reporting of civilian deaths and actual estimates based on scientific mortality studies, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Playing Games With War Deaths.”]
So, based on the fragmentary nature of passive reporting of civilian deaths and the ratios to actual deaths uncovered by more comprehensive studies in other war zones (such as Rwanda, Guatemala, D.R. Congo and U.S.-occupied Iraq), it is likely that U.S.-led air strikes killed at least 1,500 innocent civilians in just this one week, or conceivably as many as 6,000.
To put this scale of civilian deaths in the larger context of the U.S. bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria since 2014, the 589 bombs and missiles dropped in the week of April 4- 10 made this only an average week in a campaign that has been waged consistently at this intensity for more than two-and-a-half years.
Airwars has been investigating reports of civilian casualties caused by U.S. and “coalition” bombing since 2014. It has investigated U.S. or allied responsibility for incidents that have killed between 8,303 and 12,208 civilians, reported by local and international media and groups like the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. At this point, it has confirmed that 3,061 to 4,943 civilians have been killed in 1,197 U.S. or allied air strikes. Airwars classifies these deaths as “confirmed.”
Airwars classifies the reporting as “fair” for another 454 strikes that have killed between 2,635 and 4,192 civilians, based on reporting by two or more credible sources and confirmation that an alleged U.S. or allied air strike did take place. Airwars classifies the remaining reports of a further 2,607 to 3,093 civilians as either “fair, but with no confirmed strikes,” “weak,” “contested,” or “discounted.”
Applying the 5 to 20 percent ratio of passive reporting to actual deaths found in other war zones to Airwars’ minimum and maximum figures for “confirmed” and “fair” reports of civilian deaths, a reasonable estimate of total civilians killed by U.S. and allied bombing in Iraq and Syria since 2014 would be between 28,000 and 180,000.
We can hope that Airwars’ thorough investigations have already captured a higher proportion of civilian deaths than were counted by passive reporting in Guatemala (5 percent) or occupied Iraq (8 percent). This would mean that the true number of civilians we have killed is closer to the lower of these numbers than to the upper level.
But a similar effort by Iraqbodycount during the first three years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq only counted about one-twelfth of the violent civilian deaths subsequently revealed by a comprehensive mortality study of the same period, and we will only know for sure whether Airwars has been more successful once we can compare its figures with a comprehensive epidemiological mortality survey of the present conflict in Iraq and Syria.
Claims by U.S. officials that the true civilian death toll from the U.S. and allied bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria is in the hundreds, as opposed to the tens of thousands, have never been credible, as senior officers have occasionally admitted. The uncritical repetition of the U.S. military’s absurd claims by U.S. media as if they were credible estimates of civilian deaths is a journalistic scandal. This has only served to increase the near-total ignorance among much of the American public about the real human costs of the wars being waged in our name.
As with the reporting of domestic gun violence in the U.S., occasional reports of single acts of mass killing grab headlines, but give only a hint of the constant slaughter that rages on unreported, day in, day out, in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and across the ever-spreading area of the world being dragged into the bloodbath unleashed since 2001 by the U.S. “Global War on Terror.”
Nationalism, Ignorance and Consequences
There is another critical factor in the under-reporting of these constant, daily atrocities, one that has probably been a common pattern in every war ever fought. George Orwell described it very well in an essay entitled “Notes on Nationalism” that was published in May 1945, as the allies celebrated Germany’s surrender at the end of World War II.
“Actions are held to be good or bad,” Orwell wrote, “not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage – torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians – which does not change its moral color when it is committed by “our” side… The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”
Far from treating this prejudice as a problem to be overcome through public accountability and serious journalism, our current military and civilian leaders and their media mouthpieces treat this kind of nationalism as a weakness they can exploit to further suppress public awareness of their own atrocities.
Then, when a single horrific incident like the mass casualty air strike on West Mosul on March 17 breaks through this wall of silence into the public consciousness, the propaganda machine is quick to frame our killing of civilians as “unintentional” and contrast it with the “deliberate” killing of civilians by our enemies.
The eminent historian Howard Zinn pointed out the flaw in this frame of reference in a letter published in the New York Times in 2007, based partly on his own experience as a a U.S. Air Force bombardier in World War II:
“These words are misleading because they assume an action is either ‘deliberate’ or ‘unintentional.’ There is something in between, for which the word is ‘inevitable.’ If you engage in something like aerial bombing, in which you cannot possibly distinguish between combatants and civilians (as a former Air Force bombardier, I will attest to that), the deaths of civilians are inevitable, even if not ‘intentional.’ Does that difference exonerate you morally?”
“The terrorism of the suicide bomber and the terrorism of aerial bombardment are indeed morally equivalent,” Howard Zinn concluded, “To say otherwise (as either side might) is to give one moral superiority over the other, and thus serve to perpetuate the horrors of our time.”
Chemical Weapons: Propaganda and History
The persistent role of chemical weapons in U.S. propaganda to justify attacks on Iraq and Syria turns on its head the way that Western powers actually used chemical weapons themselves in the past. During World War I, American factories produced 5,770 tons of chemical weapons for use by the U.S. and its allies on the Western Front, and this was only a small fraction of the weapons produced and used by the U.K., France and Germany.
This past weekend marks the centenary of the first time that chemical weapons were used in the Middle East, by British forces in the Second Battle of Gaza in April 1917, where they failed to dislodge the Ottoman defenders barring the British advance to Jerusalem and Damascus.
As British occupation forces faced a nationwide rebellion in Iraq in 1920, British leaders in London sent chemical weapons to Iraq, but historians disagree on whether they were actually used. British forces relied mainly on bombing, and fire-bombing in particular, to put down the rebellion and enforce British rule in Iraq. One of the British squadron leaders in Iraq, Arthur Harris, is better know to history as Air Marshall “Bomber” Harris, who ordered the fire-bombing of Dresden and other German cities in World War II.
Winston Churchill was a strong advocate for the use of chemical weapons. As War Minister during the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Versailles, he wrote in a memo to his staff:
“I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. We have definitely adopted the position at the Peace Conference of arguing in favor of the retention of gas as a permanent method of warfare. It is sheer affectation to lacerate a man with the poisonous fragment of a bursting shell and to boggle at making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory gas. I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum. It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected.”
At that time, the British Army’s Manual of Military Law stated explicitly that the laws of war applied only to war “between civilized nations” and “do not apply in wars with uncivilized States and tribes.” The United Nations Charter in 1945 and the revised Geneva Conventions in 1949 formally abolished such legal distinctions between wealthy Western nations and the rest of the world. But attitudes born of wealth, privilege and racism die hard, and the purpose of much of today’s Western propaganda is to convince the world of the moral superiority of our mass technological violence over the asymmetric warfare of our less wealthy and more lightly armed enemies.
As Howard Zinn concluded, these claims to moral superiority only serve to perpetuate a mutually-reinforcing cycle of violence and to foreclose any attempt to resolve any of these conflicts except through even greater violence.
The unwritten rule that our propaganda seeks to impose on the world is that the U.S. and its allies have the right to use unrestrained, unlimited violence at will, with total impunity, while any country or government that dares to oppose us forfeits any right to defend itself, to determine its own future, or even to exist.
After George W. Bush’s administration’s crimes alienated much of the world, President Obama conducted the next phase of this aggressive policy under cover of his iconic image as a hip, sophisticated celebrity-in-chief with roots in African-American and modern urban culture. This triumph of style over substance constituted a new achievement in neoliberal “managed democracy,” allowing him to carry out policies that were the polar opposite of what his supporters thought he stood for.
With Trump, the mask is off, and the world is suddenly faced with the unvarnished reality of an aggressive military power that accepts no legal constraints on its violence.
Justice for War Crimes
If we or our leaders ever seriously want to prevent war crimes and hold war criminals responsible, we must start with the basic principle of justice invoked by Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson at the London Conference that drew up the Nuremberg Principles in 1945. But this is a principle that Trump, Obama and other present-day U.S. leaders would find quite alien. Robert Jackson declared:
“If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”
When civilians in New York, Washington and on a plane flying over Pennsylvania became victims of an unprecedented crime of mass murder on Sept. 11, 2001, former Nuremberg chief investigator and prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz was a lonely voice invoking another basic principle of justice. Ferencz demanded genuine criminal accountability for the crimes committed, and insisted that only the guilty should be punished.
On Sept. 19, 2001, Ben Ferencz was interviewed on National Public Radio (NPR). “It is never a legitimate response to punish people who are not responsible for the wrong done,” he told NPR’s Katy Clark, “If you simply retaliate en masse by bombing Afghanistan, let us say, or the Taliban, you will kill many people who don’t approve of what has happened.”
Clark asked him, “So what do you say to skeptics who believe the judicial process is inadequate because it is very slow and very cumbersome?”
“I realize that it is slow and cumbersome,” Ferencz replied, “but it is not inadequate. I say to the skeptics, ‘Follow your procedure and you’ll find what happens… We will have more fanatics and more zealots coming to kill the evil, the United States.’ We don’t want to do that. We want to uphold our principles. The United States was the moving party behind the Nuremberg Trials and behind insisting upon the rule of law.”
As Ben Ferencz predicted only a week after the 9/11 attacks, our failure to follow the “slow and cumbersome” path of justice and our resort to systematically indiscriminate and illegal threats and uses of force has left us trapped in a cycle of violence that has so far destroyed half a dozen countries and killed about 2 million people.
More are being killed every day, and our government has no mechanism or policy in place to prevent further, even unlimited escalation. Like a blinded and wounded giant, the U.S. lashes out at every perceived enemy on every pretext, falsely invoking laws, values and standards of accountability that our leaders doggedly refuse to apply to their own actions.
Our leaders effectively claim the sole power to define whose violence is justified and whose is criminal, and on a strictly self-serving basis. Our violence is always legitimate. Our enemies’ is always criminal. Noam Chomsky has referred to this as the “single standard” that governs U.S. foreign policy. It is more traditionally referred to as “might makes right,” or the “law of the jungle.” It bears no relation to the rule of law, except to violate, abuse, undermine and discredit it.
Back Through the Looking Glass
Through several administrations, across political parties, and with the active collaboration of the U.S. mass media, our leaders have replaced the rule of law with the rule of propaganda, treating flaws in our public debates like those exposed by Orwell and Zinn only as weaknesses to be exploited, instead of dangers to beware of. The vital principles of justice upheld by Robert Jackson, Ben Ferencz and the ghosts of Nuremberg are reduced to inconvenient obstacles to be marginalized by propaganda and flushed down the memory hole.
Political skill across the spectrum is now measured in the ability to “connect” with the public in a way that is completely divorced from the actual details or effects of government policy. U.S. politics has gradually been reduced to the corrupt circus of smoke and mirrors now personified by President Trump.
And yet we all have to live in the society that our political and economic systems create. The distractions of glitzy political campaigns and Hollywood fantasies can provide only superficial relief from the monopolization of our resources by an insatiably greedy ruling class; the resulting poverty of more and more working Americans; the systematic corruption of every institution of government and society by corporate power, or “inverted totalitarianism”; and the extreme violence of a foreign policy whose only response to the endless crises its militarism provokes is to threaten and then destroy yet another country and kill hundreds of thousands more innocent people.
It is becoming essential to our very survival that we find our way out of this self-destructive propaganda world, back through the looking glass to the real world: to the beautiful but fragile natural world in which we live; to the kaleidoscopic diversity of our fellow human beings and their societies; and to the serious problems we must all work together to resolve if any of what we each value in life is to survive, let alone thrive.
As our wars escalate in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, as U.S. warships bear down on Korea, and as our leaders issue new threats against Iran, Russia and China, we may have less time to save ourselves, each other and our world than we have previously assumed.
Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. He also wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.
English law courts allow for something called a private prosecution. Typically, criminals are prosecuted by the state body Crown Prosecution Services, but on some occasions private individuals can bring forward criminal charges against another person or entity they believe is guilty of a criminal offence.
Currently, there are attempts by private citizens to bring former British Prime Minister Tony Blair before a criminal court over alleged war crimes in Iraq which led to the slaughter of over a million Iraqis.
However, Britain’s current Attorney General Jeremy Wright is moving to stop such a prosecution.
Wright’s spokesman has stated,
“It’s not unusual for the attorney general to intervene in cases in order to represent the public interest. He has sought to intervene in this case because it raises important issues about the scope of the criminal law”.
There are several odd things about this statement.
First of all, if it raises the scope of criminal law, it means that the crime of stealing a car can be prosecuted and is in fact done so on a daily basis, but the far more violent act of war criminality cannot be.
Secondly, Wright implies that a private prosecution of Blair would not be in the public good. If holding leaders who engage in illegal warfare is not in the public good, I fail to see what is.
The real danger to the ruling elite is that English Common Law is based on precedent. This would mean that if Blair was convicted for war crimes, so too could many of his successors. This is a precedent that the elite clearly do not want to set due to the basic principle of self-preservation.
And then there is another problem. War criminality is not currently on the English statute books. It is an international offence that could only be applied in an international court.
As we all know, international justice for war criminals is exclusively reserved for Africans and Serbs. Tony Blair does not fit the racial profile.
At least six Iraqi soldiers have suffered inhalation problems following a chemical attack launched by Islamic State on Sunday. This is the second time in two days that the terrorists have used chemical agents to push back government forces in Mosul.
The chemical attack on Sunday occurred in a recently-liberated area of Mosul, where the Federal Police and Rapid Response forces are advancing towards the old city which is still roaming with Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) jihadists.
The spokesman for the Joint Operation Command in Iraq, Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, told the Associated Press that six soldiers suffered “breathing problems” from the attack.
The victims are now being treated at a field clinic, the spokesman added. An investigation has been launched to determine what type of gas was used.
Meanwhile, security sources told the AhlulBayt News Agency that missiles were loaded with chlorine and were fired at the al-Abar neighborhood.
This is the second time in as many days that IS terrorists have used chemical weapons in an effort to stop government troops’ advance on the old city.
“The Daesh terrorist gangs tried to block the advance of our forces by using shells filled with toxic chemical material, but the effect was limited,” Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said in a statement, referring to Saturday’s incident on their Facebook page.
The statement added that the attack on Saturday did not cause any deaths, only “limited injuries” to an unspecified number of troops who were immediately treated after being evacuated from the area.
Officers in Iraq’s Federal Police told Reuters that the chemical weapons agents were fired from the Urouba and Bab Jadid districts on Saturday.
Some 400,000 people are trapped in the area controlled by extremists, as Iraqi forces make slow progress in liberating the rest of the city from the jihadists.
The initial operation to liberate Iraq’s second largest city began exactly six months ago on October 16.
After securing the eastern part of the megalopolis earlier this year, fighting in heavily populated west Mosul was expected to turn into a tough challenge for Iraqi forces due to the city’s narrow alleyways and streets which does not allow for armored vehicles and tanks to go through.
While coalition forces have been reporting on their military advances, civilian casualties have been piling up – both at the hands of terrorists and sometimes as a result of indiscriminate shelling by the US-led coalition.
International human rights groups, as well as the Russian Foreign Ministry have warned that the humanitarian plight in war-torn Mosul has “escalated to the limit.” Iraq’s president has described it as a “full-on catastrophe.”
Tehran says Washington is in no position to comment on the issue of human rights after the US imposed sanctions on an Iranian individual and an organization for what it called their “rights abuses.”
The United States on Thursday added Sohrab Soleimani, the supervisor of Security and Law Enforcement Deputyship at Iran’s Prisons Organization, and the Tehran Prisons Organization to its “human rights-related” sanctions list.
“The US government, due to its failed domestic and international record, is not in a position to comment or act on the human rights situation in other countries,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said Friday.
“Nor has any international authority trusted such responsibility with the US administration to assess on its own the human rights situation in other countries and to make decisions for them,” he added.
Sohrab Soleimani is the younger brother of Major General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps whose occasional sojourn among the Iraqi forces on the anti-Daesh battleground has drawn international attention.
Baghdad has hailed Soleimani as being among the “trustworthy” commanders for the Iraqi government.
This is the second time since US President Donald Trump’s January inauguration that Washington targets Iranian individuals and institutions with sanctions.
Qassemi said “unilateral and coercive sanctions” by the US are an “illegitimate measure which has negative effects on the enjoyment of human rights of individuals.”
“Such repetitive measures in line with specific political objectives of the American government, declaring unilateral sanctions under baseless allegation of human rights violations against individuals or entities of independent states, breach the tenets of international law and international human rights law and are illegitimate and illegal,” he said.
In March, the US State Department said Washington had sanctioned 30 foreign companies or individuals for transferring sensitive technology to Iran for its missile program or violating export controls on Iran, North Korea and Syria.
The move prompted Iran to announce retaliatory sanctions on 15 American companies over their support for Israeli crimes and terrorism.
“The American government’s interventionist measures, more than anything, are aimed at covering up the problems of human rights in that country and diverting world opinion from its crimes and its support for systematic and gross violations of human rights by some of its allies in the region, in particular the Zionist regime, which have dark human rights records,” Qassemi said on Friday.
By Eric Walberg | American Herald Tribune | April 9, 2017
Claims that Assad is using chemical weapons are like a barometer: when the Syrian army is doing well, they surface, notably in 2013, 2015 and now, just as the Syria government looks close to some kind of ‘victory’. Both times in the past the intelligence came from Mossad and the claims fizzled out, though the propaganda that it was ‘likely’ by the Syrian Army stuck in western perception. The current chemical ‘attack’, instantly hailed by Israel, occurred just as peace talks were beginning in Geneva. The source of the claim is, again, most likely Israel, though that’s not part of the media fireworks. Tillerson might have checked with the Russians, as Russian military were stationed at the airport.
That is the background to the bombing of the air base April 6, in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack on civilians in rebel-held Idlib province two days before. National security adviser General Herbert McMaster solemnly declared, “We could trace this murderous attack back to that facility.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accused Russia of being either complicit or incompetent in failing to keep its 2013 promise of completely destroying Syria’s chemical weapons supply.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called it “an act of aggression against a sovereign country violating the norms of international law, and under a trumped-up pretext at that. Washington’s move substantially impairs Russian-US relations, which are in a deplorable state as it is.” Russia said it had suspended deconfliction channels with Washington, set up to avoid air collisions over Syria, though the Pentagon said it continued to use the channel.
Why would Assad launch chemical weapons when he was winning? The most plausible explanation was that the Syria air force hit a supply depot in rebel-held territory. That Assad would have ordered the use of chemical weapons was dismissed by Russian deputy UN ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov, who vetoed the usual US-sponsored Security Council resolution condemning Assad, suggesting it was altnews. “We have not yet any official or reliable confirmation” of what took place or who was responsible, said the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, at a press conference after the incident. The EU echoed this, though European countries either supported the US strike or kept mum.
Safronkov warned the US, “If military action occurred, it will be on shoulders of those who initiated such doubtful and tragic enterprise. Look at Iraq, look at Libya.” Olof Skoog, Sweden’s ambassador to the United Nations, sounded a similar note. “I remember Hans Blix. Of course I’m concerned” about the possibility of a US attack in Syria.” Bolivia, a current member of the Security Council, requested an emergency session to address, and perhaps condemn, the US missile attack in Syria.
What makes the accusation doubly doubtful is the fact that Syria joined the international chemical weapons treaty in 2013, agreeing to renounce all use of chemical weapons, and through the mediation of Russia, to dispose of all that were in their hands. The deadline for destruction was 2014. Syria gave the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons an inventory of its chemical weapons arsenal and started its destruction in October 2013, two weeks before its formal entry into force. Idlib, the site of the current ‘attack’, has moved back and forth, and has been in rebel hands since 2015, and all the weapons were not yet removed.
As if scripted, ISIS stormed the Syrian army checkpoints in the nearby strategic town of Al-Furqalas.
Fate worse than death?
More civilians caught up in the Syrian conflict were killed by US-led coalitions than by ISIS or Russian-led forces in the last month, according to figures released by the Syrian Network for Human Rights. ISIS killed 119 civilians in Syria in March, with Russian forces believed to have killed 224 civilians in the same month. The SNHR found the international coalition forces, led by the US, killed 260 civilians.
At the same time as the US was loudly denouncing Syria’s supposed chemical attack, which killed 80, the US was responsible for killing 85 (an airstrike on a school west of Raqqa killed at least 33 people, just after a separate US strike on a mosque complex in the north-west of the country killed 52). But it is the chemical attack claim–hotly disputed by the Russians, who are the most privvy to Syrian affairs–that gets the headlines, though unless I’m mistaken, a wartime death is a wartime death. Each one a tragedy.
The upsurge in civilian deaths has been so sharp that it’s overwhelmed Airwars.org. The site had to scale back its monitoring of Russian airstrikes in Syria and focus instead on bombings carried out by the US and its allies. At its peak, ISIS controlled about 40% of Iraqi territory; now it controls about 10%. In both Iraq and Syria, the battles are now in cities, making bombing raids lethal to civilians. The easier part of the war, which involved targeted airstrikes in less densely populated areas, is over, and deaths are bound to increase with ‘boots on the ground’.
It is difficult to understand just what Trump has in mind to end the violence in Syria and Iraq. He promised not to increase US intervention abroad, but at the same time, vowed that as president he would “bomb the hell out of ISIS.” US-led coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria have already killed 1,500 civilians in just Iraq and Syria this month alone, more than three times the number killed in President Barack Obama’s final full month in office, according to Airwars.
Trump and his top aides had accepted in recent days the “reality” of Assad being in power, saying his ouster was no longer a priority, but the chemical weapons attack seemed to spur a rethink. When asked if this signalled a change in US policy, McMaster demurred. “I think what it does communicate is a big shift … in Assad’s calculus … because this is … the first time that the United States has taken direct military action against that regime or the regime of his father.”
Trump insists that the mainstream media lies, but then buys into the mainstream version of the war against Syria. He is being manipulated by the very forces he claims to oppose. What should be a sign of decisiveness looks more like another Trump gaffe. While the mainstream political world and media approved of the sabre-rattling, Trump’s own followers are against his bombing.
According to vox.com, among them were:
*Paul Joseph Watson, Infowars/ @PrisonPlanet. “I guess Trump wasn’t ‘Putin’s puppet’ after all, he was just another deep state/Neo-Con puppet. I’m officially OFF the Trump train. I’ll be focusing my efforts on Le Pen, who tried to warn Trump against this disaster.”
*Mike Cernovich, #NoMoreWars. ” Today over 500,000 people have watched my videos and streams. 90% are @realDonaldTrump supporters, none want war with Syria.”
*Radio host Laura Ingraham, @IngrahamAngle. “Missiles flying. Rubio’s happy. McCain ecstatic. Hillary’s on board. A complete policy change in 48 hrs.”
*Author Ann Coulter, @AnnCoulter. “The beloved rebels [sic] we’ll help by intervening in Syria: women forced into veils & posters of Osama hung on the walls.”
*Max Blumenthal. “US intervention would be the last hope for Syrian rebels, and a shot in the arm to al-Qaeda, which has grown to record size thanks to America’s military meddling across the Middle East. ”
*Even the readers at Breitbart, which is known as the home on the internet for pro-Trump coverage, rebelled against the attack.
Pacts made in hell
The parallel between the Russia-Syria anti-Trump campaigns by the establishment is obvious. The Russian spying hysteria (Obama expelled 35 diplomats in December 2016) and the support for lame-duck Ukraine was to prevent a new detente with Russia, and so far has worked. Trump doesn’t dare proceed with this key foreign policy objective. Originally, he tied relations with Russia with solving the crisis in Syria. “Let Russia do it.”
But in office, Trump instead strengthened ties with Saudi Arabia, signing a pact to work together in both Syria (Clinton’s “safe zones”) and Yemen. After a friendly White House meeting with Trump and Steve Bannon (the architect of Trump’s Muslim ban), Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman hailed Trump as “his Excellency,” describing him as a “true friend of Muslims who will serve the Muslim world in an unimaginable manner, opposite to the negative portrait of his Excellency that some have tried to promote.” The only real agreement with the Saudis is the obsession to attack Iran, a pact made in hell.
Historical parallels abound here. Just as Putin was understandably supportive of Trump’s campaign for the presidency, Soviet Russia in its time very much wanted to be friends with Hitler, the ultimate ‘pact made in hell’. Israel Shamir argues it was a good idea given the times; the problem was that Hitler had other priorities, and the Russian desire for peace and friendship did not fit in. Things today have reached a head, not quite Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa against Russia, although the economic sanctions against Russia are warfare by another name.
The current airstrike, which could have killed Russians, is more like the Cuban missile crisis. But there is no JFK (who was, in any case, assassinated for his desire for peace with the Soviet Union). What should have been a diplomatic triumph–the unfolding of peace with Russia and an end to the Syrian tragedy–has turned into renewed US support for ISIS and confrontation with Russia, both of which could spin out of control. Russian military personnel and aircraft are embedded with Syria’s, and Iranian troops and paramilitary forces are also on the ground helping Assad fight the array of opposition groups hoping to topple him. And then there’s Ukraine.
On December 22 last year the government of Syria regained control of the city of Aleppo that had been occupied by brutal rebel forces since 2012. As reported by the BBC, «The predominantly Sunni Muslim opposition is made of several rebel groups, many of whom have received financial aid from key opponents of President Assad, including the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey».
Following defeat of the US-supported insurgents, «Under a deal brokered by Turkey and Russia, convoys of buses and cars have shuttled thousands of civilians and fighters out of Aleppo’s last rebel-held pocket toward opposition areas outside the city», and peace was restored, much to the frustration and annoyance of some Western governments. The Los Angeles Times noted that «a series of victory celebrations were held in Aleppo following the government forces’ victory, attended by large crowds. For the first time since the civil war began, Christmas was celebrated in Aleppo, with a tree lighting ceremony».
When the rebels controlled the city there was persecution and slaughter of Christians, with the BBC recording that «in areas seized by the jihadist group Islamic State, Christians have been ordered to convert to Islam, pay jizya (a religious levy), or face death. In the Syrian province of Hassakeh in February 2015, hundreds of Christians are feared to have been kidnapped by the militants. Senior Christian clerics have also been kidnapped by unknown gunmen. Suspicion for the abductions has fallen on the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate». You might imagine that the Christian West would have welcomed the freedom restored to Syrian Christians by the Syrian government, but there was hardly a word about this aspect of victory over the Muslim fanatics.
On the other hand, immediately before the rebels were defeated the leaders of the West were vociferously critical of operations to take the city, with reports that «Theresa May has joined Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and the leaders of France, Canada and Italy to jointly condemn Russia over its role in the humanitarian disaster ‘taking place before our very eyes’ in Aleppo». There was saturation media cover of the joint statement that «The urgent need now is for an immediate ceasefire to allow the United Nations to get humanitarian assistance to people in eastern Aleppo. Only a political settlement can bring peace for people in Syria».
If the situation had not been so appalling this would have excited derisive laughter because much of the West, along with the freedom-loving kingdom of Saudi Arabia (which forbids the practice of Christianity) and the near-autocracy of Turkey, are the very countries that advocated rebellion in Syria rather than advocating a «political settlement». They all urged the violent overthrow of Syria’s President Assad, with Saudi Arabia declaring that he «cannot be part of a solution to the conflict and must hand over power to a transitional administration or be removed by force». Turkey’s Erdogan, himself intent on establishing a dictatorship, proclaimed that his armed forces intervened in Syria «to bring justice. We are there to end the rule of the cruel Assad, who has been spreading state terror». And the hypocrites of the West cheered them on.
The US and the European Union announced that «President Assad, who is resorting to brutal military force against his own people and who is responsible for the situation, has lost all legitimacy and can no longer claim to lead the country». They were all determined that Syria’s President be brutally deposed by the vicious anti-Christian rebels who were murdering civilians and laying waste to Aleppo.
Then in 2017 the governments in Washington, London and some other capitals which championed rebellion in Syria and condemned Russian airstrikes in support of the government suddenly changed their tune about aspects of the conflict. The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, told reporters on March 29 that «You pick and choose your battles and when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out». No doubt President Assad has views on this, but it is a welcome development — if indeed it is official US policy, as one never knows which way the tweet might blow in Trumpland, nowadays — and it would have been even more welcome had there been a similar change of mind about accepting responsibility for the massacres in Mosul by US airstrikes.
The Iraqi city of Mosul came under control of Islamic State barbarians in 2014, since which time they behaved much as their soulmates in Aleppo, murdering opponents, destroying ancient buildings, and persecuting those whose religion differed from their own warped interpretation of Islam. Last year it was decided to retake the city, and Iraqi forces launched a series of operations supported by a «coalition» of countries, some of which assisted the US in mounting hundreds of airstrikes on the city and its environs. Many of the rockets, bombs and missiles caused the deaths of countless civilians, but it was only on March 17 that the western media had to take notice, after a particularly hideous attack killed some 200 civilians in a Mosul suburb.
Then the damage control experts swept into action. Not to alleviate the slaughter and destruction on the ground, of course, but to control the media as best they could.
US Central Command was forced to admit that «the Coalition struck ISIS fighters and equipment, March 17, in West Mosul at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties». Most western media then carried reports heavily slanted towards blaming Islamic State for the slaughter.
The commander of «Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve», US Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, admitted to reporters that «our initial assessment… shows we did strike in that area, there were multiple strikes in that area, so is it possible that we did that? Yes, I think it is possible. Because we struck in that area, I think there’s a fair chance that we did it». But then he altered his tone and said that «We know ISIS were fighting from that position in that building… So that’s my initial impression, the enemy had a hand in this…» This line was followed by the media, with, for example, the Washington Post commenting that Russian airstrikes had killed civilians and then, almost as an afterthought, that «Confusion still surrounds the [Mosul] incident: Iraqi military authorities are saying the casualties were caused by booby traps the Islamic State had planted in the house, or by a suicide car bomb that detonated nearby. There’s no question that the jihadists are using civilians as shields, forcing them to stay in homes that are used as firing positions».
To give it its due, the Post ended by saying that it is «vital that US authorities determine as quickly as possible whether an American or coalition bomb [note the clever use of the singular «bomb»] caused the civilian deaths, and, if so, accept responsibility», but we can be confident that Pentagon inquiries will not result in anyone accepting responsibility for this or any other atrocity, as indicated by The New York Times reporting on March 30 of the hardening official line that «ISIS is smuggling civilians into buildings so we won’t see them and trying to bait the coalition to attack».
The Mosul airstrikes and many others killed over a thousand Iraqi civilians in March, and you might imagine that western leaders would be at least mildly disapproving of this horrible butchery, but there hasn’t been a word from any of them.
Remember that Barack Obama, Theresa May, Angela Merkel, François Hollande, Justin Trudeau and Matteo Renzi were eloquent about the Aleppo airstrikes and lamented emotionally that «the images of dying children are heart-breaking». But they don’t say a word about the hideous slaughter in Mosul. It’s just a collateral massacre. What a bunch of hypocrites.
The alleged chemical attack, reported yesterday, is the latest in a series of atrocities notionally carried out by the Syrian government (“The Regime”, in the partisan parlance of the press). There has not been time, as yet, to fully examine and analyse all the evidence – the claims and counter claims, the photographs and videos – but it would be a massive mistake to view it in a vacuum.
First, the situation on the ground needs to be considered. The Syrian government – with assistance from Iran and the Russian Air Force, have been making steady progress for months. Aleppo has fallen. Palmyra was retaken. The rebels are losing. So cui bono? What good does dropping chemical weapons on children do Assad, at this point? It is both strategically pointless, and a crushing blow to his international image. It would serve no purpose, unless he’s a comic-book style villain intent on being cruel for cruelty’s sake – and they don’t exist outside of cinema or the American press. Conversely, it would make all the sense in the world for cornered zealots and mercs to try to disrupt the upcoming talks (from which they are excluded).
Second, the timing. Much like a previous “chemical attack” (and subsequent BBC Panorama documentary) came on the eve of a commons vote on military intervention in Syria, this attack comes at a key moment. In two days there is a meeting in Brussels on the Syria peace process, and the future of the country. This attack will allow Western leaders – especially the European voices, increasingly separate from the US on this issue – to ride an artificial high-horse into those proceedings. Deals can be scuppered and progress refused in the wake of such “atrocities”.
Third, we have seen this all before. There was the chemical attack in Ghouta, initially pinned on the government (and still unquestioningly attributed to them in the MSM), that was revealed to be carried out by rebels. there was also the aforementioned napalm/chemical attack on a school – thoroughly debunked by Robert Stuart. We have seen the same girl rescued three different times by the White Helmets, and seen people in Egypt arrested for faking footage of bombings. The “last hospital in Aleppo” was knocked down everyday for a month, and the last doctors slaughtered bi-weekly. There is no reason, as yet, to think this is not just more of the same.
This is in fine tradition of media manipulation – from filming people on the outside of a fence and pretending they’re inside, to moving bodies for a better photograph, to deliberately removing an image’s context, and lying about it. Events are ignored, twisted, exaggerated and outright fabricated in order to push an agenda. Accordance with reality is immaterial to the process, and coincidental when it occurs.
Real or not, false flag or not – No one can deny convenience of the timing. Given the conflict the UK/EU find themselves in with the new US administration re: Syria. During the campaign Trump, unlike Clinton, totally refused to countenance the idea of no-fly zones or any kind of American/NATO backed military action against Syria and their Russian/Iranian allies. The last few weeks have seen even a softening of America’s “Assad must go” mantra. Rex Tillerson, speaking in Turkey last week, said:
I think the… longer term status of president Assad will be decided by the Syrian people,”
And the American ambassador to the UN added:
You pick and choose your battles and when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”
Though she did later clarify these remarks, after being named-and-shamed in the media.
John McCain called Tillerson’s words “one of the more unusual statements I have ever heard”, stating it would be ridiculous to let Syrians decide the fate of Syrian government (probably because they would choose wrong).
The press, of course, have not referenced any of this. They continue to cite the partisan White Helmets and completely discredited “Syrian observatory for Human Rights” as if they are reliable sources. They continue to assert gossip and rumor as if it were fact. They continue to lie, but give themselves just enough room to manoeuvre should their lies be exposed.
The Guardian view on…, one of the Guardian’s anonymous editorials (that definitely don’t come straight from GCHQ, you cynics), is a classic example. The headline reads:
The Guardian view on Syria: Assad knows he acts with impunity
A sharp, hard-edged, statement of absolute certitude… and the only sentence of conviction in the whole piece. The rest is littered with uncertain, selective language. Weasel-words and guesses. I have added the emphasis:
Tuesday’s attack in rebel-held Idlib province has forced a reaction: it is one of the worst suspected chemical attacks in the six-year war
the symptoms suggest the use of a nerve agent, probably sarin
ascertaining the agents used, by whom, is always difficult – particularly given the problems experts will face in accessing the site.
The suspicion is that Tuesday’s strike, like another suspected sarin attack which killed 93 people in eastern Hama in December,
Some have already drawn a link between what seems to be the use of a more deadly agent and the US shift on Syria
That’s an awful lot of “seems” and “suspecteds” to cram into 700 words. It’s a suspected attack, that seems like it might be similar to other suspected attacks, which might have happened. As of right now, it appears, we don’t who attacked, how they attacked, what they attacked with or – indeed – if anyone attacked anything at all.
Nevertheless, the nameless and completely non-partisan and objective author reassures us that:
Nonetheless, the evidence so far points in one direction,
… he just neglects to mention exactly what that evidence is, or tell us where we can find it.
Just hours later we are treated to a longer variation on the exact-same theme, this time the author doesn’t feel ashamed to put his name to it… he probably should be. But years of writing about the Guardian teaches you that Jonathan Freedland is never ashamed of putting his name to anything.
Let’s not even condemn these attacks any more – because our condemnations ring so hollow.
… he says, before condemning the attacks – at interminable length and in trite manipulative language. That these condemnations “ring hollow” might be the only honest words in the article. The level of selective blindness, historical dishonesty, and flat-out hypocrisy is astounding. Even for him,
Assad has himself broken international law, indeed broken a set of precious, century-old conventions and agreements that ban chemical weapons.
… he says, as if a) It was a proven fact and b) It was the only example. No mention of American use of depleted Uranium, Agent Orange or napalm is made. No mention of Israeli White Phosphorus or of the cluster bombs we used in Iraq, and sold to Saudi Arabia to be used on Yemeni civilians. The use of any and all of those substances is illegal under International law. America and Israel cannot be charged with a breach of The Geneva Convention, of course, because they have never ratified protocols I and II, outlawing the targeting of civilians and infrastructure and banning certain weapons.
We are all too aware of the costs of action. But the dead of Khan Sheikhoun force us to make another calculation. They force us to see that inaction too can exact a terrible price.
This could be a straight copy-and-paste job from his many articles on Libya. He made the same arguments back then, and must take partial responsibility for post-apocalyptic wasteland that he (and his colleagues in the media) helped to create. Libya is destroyed, he knows this, and if he could excuse or downplay his role in that destruction… he would do so. To ignore it, and employ the same reasoning to encourage the same fate to yet another Middle-Eastern country, displays a callousness and vanity that belies is saccharine concern for “values”.
However, no amount of faux-moral agonising and dishonesty will ever trump this:
For more than a decade, we have rightly weighed the grave consequences of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, counting the toll in human suffering.
The tone mirrors the same tone ever-taken by members of the Western press when it comes to Iraq. “Our consciences are agony”, they scream at us. As if Iraq was all a tragic accident, fuelled by the fervor of our best intentions and naivety of our governments. They will never address the truth of it – that it was a cynical and brutal war of conquest, cheered on a by braying, controlled media, with more regard for their appearance of virtue, and their bank balances, than any idea of objective truth.
Now, the lame self-flagellation is one thing, but that it should appear alongside this:
Assad’s impunity is, at this very moment, being noted and filed away by the world’s most brutal regimes: the precedent is being set. This is what you can get away with.
… is quite another. The world is VERY aware “what you can get away with” in international law…and it’s not 70 dead in what “seems” like a gas attack. What you can “get away with” is walling up millions of people in a giant ghetto, and cutting off their water and power supply. It’s dropping carcinogens on villages, that give babies tumors 50 years later. It’s illegal sanctions that kill 500,000 children but are “worth it”.
“what you can get away with”, as the author so po-facedly admits, is the invasion of Iraq. An illegal war, a million dead, an ancient seat of civilisation reduced to a glass crater. Was anyone fired? Did anyone resign in disgrace? Has anyone faced charges in the Hague. No, the perpetrators walk free. They collect paychecks from the boards of the most powerful companies in the world, and are given column inches in the Guardian when ever they want them.
In terms of making an actual argument, he hits the exact same talking points as The Guardian view, uses the exact same phrases… and produces the exact same amount of evidence:
… we almost certainly know who did it. Every sign points to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
He doesn’t say what these “signs” are. Or link to where we can see them.
We know that the poison spread after warplanes dropped bombs
We “know” no such thing. That’s just what the White Helmets said. The White Helmets are paid by the governments of several countries… including the US and UK. They are completely discredited as a source. But this article isn’t about making an evidence-based case, it is about harnessing created public outrage in order to further a specific political agenda.
So, what is the agenda? Well, it won’t be full-blown war in Syria. Number 10 was very quick to – shall we say – shoot-down that idea. It won’t be any kind of overt NATO or American backed intervention… if the PTB had wanted that, they would have pushed harder for a Clinton victory. And Freedland’s reference to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s suggestion is laughable:
Anne-Marie Slaughter, formerly of the Obama administration, suggests a single strike that would crater, say, a runway used by Assad’s warplanes – not an invasion, not a full-scale military operation, but some way of punishing Syria for what it has done.
No, the agenda being pushed here is two-fold, firstly an attack on the UN and its apparent impotence, and secondly a pre-emptive defense of the status quo.
To deal with the first point, the article launches a sidelong attack on the UN Security Council, most specifically the veto power:
In February, the UN security council considered imposing sanctions over the use of chemical weapons. Russia vetoed it, of course: it would never want to stay the hand of its murderous chum. But China vetoed it too.
This is not new material for the Guardian, they have been attacking the UN veto for years now – as have other liberal papers and news outlets. You don’t need to be a genius to understand the drive to undermine the only regulatory body that can put a hold on neo-liberal imperialism. But for the UNSC, Iraq would have been so much easier and Syria would have been levelled by now.
The second point is more subtle. For years the CIA et al have been seeking to remove Assad from government, most openly through supplying arms and money to the “moderate opposition” in order to wage a proxy war. Trump’s election, and his public undermining of the intelligence agencies, poses a threat to this on-going plan.
Now that this chemical attack has happened, of course, Trump’s administration can be condemned for being “soft”. Now, we can call on Trump and his cabinet to “act”… and when they refuse to change their policy, rightfully fearful of a conflict with Russia, they will be further derided and undermined in the press as “Russian agents” who are “easy on tyrants”.
All the while, the covert operations carried out by American and European alphabet agencies all over Syria will continue.
When the State Dept., the CIA and all their co-members of America’s (totally imaginary) “deep state” completely disregard the orders of their Commander-in-Chief, and continue to pursue their own agenda – continue to supply arms and funding to their mercenaries and proxies – they will be applauded in the press for their “bravery” and “resolution”.
We will be encouraged to be “thankful” that the mechanics of democracy and freedom cannot be impeded by the election of an autocratic buffoon. We will be told, with a bright smile, that our choice of leadership means literally nothing as it pertains to foreign policy.
It will be thrown in our faces that our elected officials have no real power, and we will be told to applaud the death of democracy… in the name of freedom.
As early as 2013, Western powers have been rooting for the balkanization of Syria as the best possible outcome of the war tearing apart the country since 2011.
Since the war against Syria is significant in this period of imperialism, watching how it was led by the US, imperialist proxies and their so-called allies, one can fully understand that the war against the Syrian Arab Republic has been decades in the making.
Throughout history, the imperialist powers have been facilitating and empowering the most intolerant, bigoted ideologies and groups in the region starting from the Balfour Declaration, passing through the infamous Sykes-Picot agreement and ending in the invasions of Iraq and Libya before making their way into Syria. The latest group to gain the full support of the US on the ground in Syria is the Syrian Kurdish YPG forces (People’s Protection Units).
The US threw its lot in with the Kurds in Iraq at first as it supposedly tried to find partners who reportedly pose a credible threat to ISIS. Thus, their pick of the Peshmerga Kurdish group came as a result of mutual interest in the region. The Kurds wanted to establish their own autonomous state in the region and the US wanted to reenter Iraq under the pretext of helping the Kurds fight ISIS.
Kurdish Political Ambitions
The first direct coordination between US forces and Kurdish groups was between October 2014 and January 2015 in the battle of Kobani, inside Syria, where Kurdish forces reached out to the Americans after ISIS forces surrounded them. The US then hit the terrorist group’s targets in the area with airstrikes, while the Kurdish forces on the ground assaulted ISIS positions that ended up inflicting heavy losses on the terrorists and drove them out of the area.
This battle represented an historic opportunity for both political wings of the Kurdish movement, the Iraqi Peshmerga and the Syrian PYD (The Democratic Union Party) to realize their dream of independence. The PYD’s armed forces known as the YPG (People’s Protection Units), which has a fighting force of 50,000 fighters, became determined to take control of the vast majority of Syria’s border with Turkey fully backed by US airpower.
The PYD then stated that its priority focused on uniting traditional Kurdish areas of Syria (known as Rojava), extending from Afrin to the Tigris river into one attached land mass.
That statement took me back to the words of former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 2013 when he commented on the Syrian situation, expressing his preference for a broken-up and balkanized Syria to emerge out of the current so-called “Assad-controlled unity.” The man said he supports the partitioning of a unified state.
Oldest plan in the book: Balkanize Syria
The US’s vision of the future Syrian map was detailed by Kissinger during a presentation at the Ford School Syria with pretty much a distorted history lesson. He stated that Syria was not a historic state “It was created in its present shape in 1920, and it was given that shape to facilitate the control of the country by France, which happened to be after a UN mandate,” he said.
Kissinger then claimed that the current Syria was conceived as a more or less artificial national unity consisting of different tribes and ethnic groups.
This same theory was also presented by the Israeli Oded Yinon plan which is an article published in February 1982 in the Hebrew journal Kivunim (“Directions”) entitled A Strategy for Israel in the 1980s. This plan is an early example of characterizing political projects in the Middle East in terms of a logic of sectarian divisions and the dissolution of all the existing Arab states.
Hence, supporting the partitioning of Syria began with the US and Israel’s full support of the so- called “Rojava Project”.
US helping Kurds put plan into effect
The US’ support for the YPG has gained public sympathy in the West viewing the Kurds as the most forward-thinking “rebel” group in the battle against extremism. The same cannot be said for the countless factions receiving aid from regional backers, many of which have cooperated with Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Nusra Front (Ahrar Al Sham).
However, you would have thought that the PYD’s connections to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – a US, EU, and Turkey-designated terror group – are problematic. Despite this fact, the US appears to be committed to maintaining its air support for the Syrian Kurds, both near the Euphrates in the west and the outskirts of Raqqa in the south.
Thus since the US favors the balkanization of Syria, it is now working openly to empower Syrian and Iraqi Kurds. So by choosing sides, the US may be signaling that it is preparing for all contingencies, including the fracturing of Syria and the complete collapse of the state in Raqqa.
During the past couple of weeks, Raqqa, ISIS’s main urban base of operations in Syria, is the focus of an ongoing campaign by the newly formed US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF is a coalition of Kurdish (YPG), Sunni Arab (FSA-Free Syrian Army) and Syriac Christian fighters, but is completely dominated by its Kurdish element (YPG).
The main Syrian Kurdish militia, the YPG, already controls swathes of northern Syria as well, where Kurdish groups and their allies are working to establish a decentralized system of government in areas captured from ISIS. This political project is causing deep alarm in Damascus, which sees the YPG and its political affiliate, the PYD, as a potential threat with their current loud and clear alliance with the US.
According to Reuters, Saleh Muslim, the co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish PYD party, stated that the northern Syrian city of Raqqa is expected to join a decentralized system of government being set up by Syrian Kurdish groups and their allies once it is freed from ISIS.
As per these comments, I spoke with Fares Shehabi, a member of the Syrian Parliament for Aleppo and Chairman of the Syrian Federation of Industry who firmly guaranteed that “the statement of Saleh Muslim is irresponsible since the Syrian government will not recognize any presence in Raqqa or any other province other than the legitimate Syrian state represented by the Syrian Arab Army.”
As I spoke with Mr. Shehabi, a heavy US-backed operation near Raqqa was blocking any advance by the Syrian Arab Army from the west in preparation for the balkanization process. Thus I asked Mr. Shehabi where the Syrian government stands from this process as seemingly the Kurdish forces are fully under the control of the US. The Syrian MP responded resolutely that “no balkanization of Syria will be allowed” stating that “the Kurdish Forces do not have the field power to enter or stay in Raqqa because that would cause an unwanted and unrealistic change in the fabric of the city.” Mr. Shehabi then explained that any sort of a Kurdish uncalculated incursion whether from YPG or SDF on the city of Raqqa would backfire since their move will not be accepted or tolerated in the city.
In March, the SDF announced it had captured the Tabqa air base, 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of Raqqa, with direct US substantial air and ground support provided.
The Telegraph reported on that mission that five helicopters, supported by five fighter jets, dropped dozens of SDF fighters near the northern town of Shurfa without stating whether or not US soldiers accompanied them.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Arab Army’s main ally Russia has always been aware of US plans to pull Raqqa into a “decentralized” government, which would be the first step toward balkanizing Syria. As early as October of 2014, Sputnik reported:
The Pentagon’s reliance on Kurds to liberate Raqqa may indicate that the US is actually ready to support the federalization of Syria, said Alexander Babakov, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee at the upper house of the Russian parliament.
“It would be hard to imagine that American plans on Raqqa are aimed only to bring peace to Syria. It cannot be ruled out by using Kurds to liberate the city from Daesh the US wants to support the federalization of Syria, including establishing an autonomous Kurdish region,” Babakov told the Russian newspaper Izvestia.
Therefore, since the United States and Israel have never denied their aspiration to see Syria divided up into small, vulnerable and easily manipulated territories, and since the Kurds have provided the US and Israel with the pretext to do so, it remains to be seen how the Syrian government and its allies will respond. Now that a foreign army and its proxies are blocking the Syrian Army from liberating its own country from terrorists, we wait to see if balkanization is next.
Ms. Marwa Osman. PhD Candidate located in Beirut, Lebanon. University Lecturer at the Lebanese International University and Maaref University. Political writer/commentator on Middle East issues with many international and regional media outlets.
The NATO Foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Friday assumed special significance since it happened to be the first appearance by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the alliance’s ‘diplomatic podium’. The alliance, in fact, refixed the date of the ministerial to suit Tillerson’s scheduling convenience. And he, for sure, did not disappoint his audience.
Tillerson’s interventions on Friday were the first structured statements of the Donald Trump administration on two important vectors of the US foreign policies – NATO’s raison d’etre as a military alliance and, secondly, Ukraine – which together inevitably reflect on the overall approach that can be expected from Washington in relations with Russia – at least in the near term. Tillerson is slated to visit Moscow on April 12.
Tillerson unequivocally stressed the Trump administration’s commitment to NATO. He described the alliance as the “bedrock of transatlantic security”. Thereupon, he went on to identify ISIS and Russia as the two “common threats” that the alliance faces. He said NATO as an alliance is “fundamental to countering both non-violent, but at times violent, Russian agitation and Russian aggression.” Tillerson called on NATO to “remain vigilant in strengthening NATO’s eastern defences… from Baltic to the Black Sea.”
No doubt, it was exceptionally strong language for the US’ top diplomat to use. Tillerson cited against this backdrop this weekend deployment to Poland of the US’ “enhanced, forward presence battalion”. He hinted that the Trump administration envisages a lead role for NATO in fighting the ISIS and, importantly, in the stabilization of Iraq.
This effectively rules out any significant level of military cooperation between the US and Russia in the fight against ISIS. (Notably, though, Tillerson made no mention of Syria.) Indeed, it remains to be seen how an enhanced NATO presence in Iraq will be perceived in Tehran.
Tillerson also addressed a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission in Brussels on Friday and his remarks there have been the most detailed statement so far on the Trump administration’s policies towards the Ukraine crisis. Tillerson literally tore into Russia. The following excerpts bring out the flavour of this unequivocal condemnation of Russian policies in Syria through the past 3-year period:
- Three years ago, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine shook the very foundations of security and stability in Europe. Today, Russia’s ongoing hostility and occupation is compromising our shared vision of a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace. American and NATO support for Ukraine remains steadfast. As we have repeated at every Ministerial and Summit since Russia launched its campaign of aggression against Ukraine, NATO Allies stand firm in our support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We do not, and will not, accept Russian efforts to change the borders of territory of Ukraine… NATO solidarity is crucial to finding a political solution to this conflict.
Tillerson made it clear that the US squarely holds Russia accountable for the implementation of the Minsk agreements. He warned Moscow:
- The United States sanctions will remain until Moscow reverses the actions that triggered our sanctions. We note with alarm the escalating violence along the line of contact and the repeated targeting of civilian infrastructure by Russia-led separatist forces, which poses an elevated risk of humanitarian disaster. We call on Russia to exercise its influence over the separatists to put a stop to the violence, end the campaign of attacks and intimidation against OSCE monitors, and facilitate the access they need to do their job. The OSCE must be able to fulfill its mandate which included monitoring throughout the conflict zone and to the international border. And Russia must understand there is no basis to move forward on the political aspects of the Minsk agreements until there is visible, verifiable, and irreversible improvement in the security situation.
Simply put, Tillerson has put Russia on notice that the Trump administration policies will be hard as nails when it comes to the Ukraine situation. (Meanwhile, there are growing demands that the US should supply lethal weapons to Ukraine.)
On Crimea, Tillerson was pretty much blunt: “Crimea-related sanctions must remain in place until Russia returns control of the peninsula to Ukraine.”
Most important, Tillerson just stopped short of saying that the US is supportive of Ukraine’s induction as a NATO member country. He urged Kiev to bring the Ukrainian armed forces to continue to reform and modernise so as to come up to the NATO standards by 2020. In a subtle reference to what lies ahead, Tillerson recalled Trump’s assertion that “every country has the right to chart its own future.” To be sure,Ukraine is looming ahead as the inflection point in Russia’s relations with the US.
The overall tenor of Tillerson’s remarks suggests that not only is the Trump administration unable or unwilling to do anything to improve relations with Russia in immediate terms, it might simply continue with the Barack Obama administration’s Russia policies for as long as the civil war conditions prevail in Washington between him on the one hand and the Russophobes in the Congress and the American foreign and security policy community on the other. Read the triumphalist opinion piece by Time magazine – These Five Facts Explain Why Trump’s Russia Reset May Be Over.
American troops will apparently remain in Iraq even when the fight against Islamic State has ended, according to Pentagon officials, including US Defense Secretary James Mattis, who said that keeping soldiers on the ground is in America’s “national interest.”
The US Defense Department’s top officials expressed their desire to keep US troops in Iraq at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Wednesday.
Mattis made it clear that US involvement will not end when Mosul is finally captured from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).
“I believe it’s in our national interest that we keep Iraqi security forces in a position to keep our mutual enemies on their back foot,” he said, as quoted by the Military Times.
The defense secretary went on to say that he does not “see any reason to pull out again and face the same lesson,” adding that the US “needs to remain decisively engaged in Iraq and in the region.”
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. agreed with Mattis, stating that Iraqi security forces will need US support “for years to come.”
The comments come as the brutal battle continues for Mosul, the self-proclaimed capital of IS in Iraq.
Around 400,000 civilians are stuck in Mosul’s old city, which is currently held by IS militants. They are facing food and electricity shortages, with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees believing the “worst is yet to come.”
US involvement in the military campaign against IS is approaching its third anniversary, evolving from airstrikes in the summer of 2014 to the eventual deployment of around 6,000 ground troops across Iraq and Syria, whom Washington mostly calls “advisors.”
During a Tuesday meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, US President Donald Trump himself said that American troops should have remained in Iraq.
“Certainly, we shouldn’t have left. We should never ever have left,” Trump said as quoted by Newsweek, noting that the withdrawal was followed by chaos.
But Abadi appears to have another plan in mind, stating last week that the international military presence in Iraq should be reduced once IS militants are defeated.
“As we are crushing Daesh [Arabic pejorative term for IS], it is clear that there is a need to reduce the number of our allies who are helping us,” he told Middle East Eye.
Around half a million people died in Iraq from war-related causes during the US-led intervention between 2003 and mid-2011, according to a study published in 2013. That figure was around four times bigger than previous estimates.
A separate 2013 study found that the Iraq War cost $1.7 trillion, with an additional $490 billion owed to war veterans, noting that the expenses could grow to around $4 trillion over the next four decades, counting interest.
Earlier this week, Abadi reportedly said that rebuilding Mosul and the reconstruction of Anbar province could cost up to $50 billion in the coming years.
Mattis acknowledged a financial need for re-building, but stressed that the US will not be solely responsible for the bill.
“It’s going to be an international effort, it should not be carried fully by the American taxpayer,” he said on Wednesday. “But we should certainly be part of it.”
Speech by Hezbollah Secretary General Sayed Hassan Nasrallah on March 18, 2017, on the occasion of the anniversary of the birth of Fatima al-Zahra (as), Women’s Day
Extract of the Political Section of the Speech
Today, or (rather) these days are actually a (special) opportunity, namely that the events in Syria and the war waged against Syria have entered their seventh year. That is to say, six years have passed, with all that they contain in terms of sufferings, wars, conspiracies, confrontations and sacrifices of human lives. With the end of the sixth year and the beginning of the seventh, we must stop briefly on this occasion, because it concerns us also in the first place.
All those who met in the first few months of the beginning of the events six years ago of state forces, great powers, regional countries, 140, 130 or 120 countries that have gathered under the name of “Friends Of Syria” and who plotted, doing everything they could (against Syria). They bet on their ability to seize Syria in 2 or 3 months in 2011. Today, with the end of the 6th year, they face a bloody and painful truth, namely rout and failure. After six years, these powerful and important countries of the world and the region have failed, a bitter failure, in achieving their goals.
For six years, tens of billions of dollars of Arab money – Turkey did not spend money, France and the United Kingdom did not spend money. All the money that financed the war in Syria is Arab money. This money could have eliminated the poverty of the Arab world. It could have brought Somalia out of famine and Yemen as well. It could have (re)built the houses of the Palestinians in Gaza. It could have strengthened the Palestinians at Bayt-al-Maqdis (Sanctuary House / Jerusalem). This money could have guaranteed hundreds of thousands of job opportunities for unemployed Arab youth. It could have ended the illiteracy of hundreds of millions, unfortunately, tens of millions of men and women in the Arab world who are illiterate. Not a single dollar has been spent on these problems, but tens of billions of dollars of Arab money have been spent on the war in Syria, against Syria, its regime, its state, its army and its people, and against the Resistance Axis within it.
And tens, hundreds of thousands of tons of weapons and ammunition (were sent there). And they came from all over the world with tens of thousands of fighters, white, black, brown, red, yellow, whatever you want. They have left no side, no color, no tongue, no race, they have brought fighters from every spot of the whole world. The Americans, their allies, the plotters funded and facilitated (sending fighters) and brought tens of thousands of fighters to fight in Syria to achieve a clear and precise goal: to bring down Syria, to get it out of the Resistance Axis and take control of it. To take control of its decisions, its sovereignty, its people and its choices on its territory, and its strategic position on the Mediterranean Sea (between Asia) and Europe, and its strategic position in the struggle against the Israeli enemy.
Today, the result is clear: failure, defeat and retreat.
Well, let me remind you a bit, at the beginning of the 7th year, about the beginning of the first year. We do not deny that some of the people really wanted reforms and changed some realities in Syria. But what came (on the scene) with force and changed all that are the takfiri forces that were brought from all over the world, and who refused political dialogue in the first weeks. They refused any political outcome, any discussion, and their choices were definitive: they went to the bloody, general and total military confrontation. They have formulated sectarian slogans and revived (religious) school quarrels, and have lifted the veil on their objectives and their hostility towards the Resistance in the first weeks.
Well, who brought the al-Qaeda organization? When they arrived in Syria, what was their name? The Islamic State in Iraq. They then added “and in the Levant” (Syria). Then they divided, the members of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant divided. There were two factions: Daesh and the Al-Nosra Front. But in truth, they all belong to al-Qaeda, which is listed by the Americans on the list of terrorist organizations, as well as by the UN Security Council, by Saudi Arabia and by Europe. They brought tens of thousands of fighters, whom they regarded as terrorists themselves, gave them money and weapons, opened borders and brought them to Syria. They recognize that they themselves created (these groups), that they created Daesh to fight the Resistance and the Resistance Axis.
Today, the situation is different. I do not want to dwell on this point, and I will just focus on the new elements.
I want to remind you first of all that in the first year, the question did not require much political understanding, and that there was no need to make predictions and wait (and see). Anyone who had studied contemporary experiences in Afghanistan and elsewhere could reach the following conclusion, as I told them in the first months, I addressed the Al-Qaeda organization and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, Daesh and the Al-Nosra Front who separated from it, and I said to them: “All of you of all nationalities, you were brought to Syria to gather you there, you were brought to Syria – now, anyone can check this out from 6 years ago – you were brought to Syria to gather you there and use you as combatants to achieve the American-Israeli goals in the region and when you will be pressed to the end, whether you have won or lost, you will be liquidated. We collect you (en masse) in order to liquidate you after having used you. You have been used… – and that is why I called them initially to be careful and wake up, and not to turn into wood and fuel for the fire lit by America and Israel as well as some regional countries, against whom they also plot, and who will pay the price. But sectarianism, foolishness, ignorance and stupidity have given them no opportunity (of lucidity).
They thought they were very smart, they believed that they were instrumentalizing America, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the countries of the world and the West so that they’d allow them to implement their own project in Syria. And they wrote all that in their strategic projects. And that was the pinnacle of stupidity.
Today, what happens? After Daesh became an object of scandal for the American project here, Daesh sees its last days in Iraq – (it’s a question of) weeks, months, (but) it’s over. Daesh has no military or political future in Iraq. And similarly in Syria, Daesh no longer has any military or political future in Syria. At best, they will have dormant cells that will carry out suicide bombings because the suicide bombings targeting civilians in Baghdad, Tikrīt, Damascus, Homs and elsewhere reflect strategic and military failure. When someone sends suicide bombers to kill children, women, in restaurants, passers-by, schoolchildren and students, this reflects his strategic failure and military failure. These are acts of vengeance, not of fighting. This is the future of Daesh. The future of Al-Nosra is the same.
Today, Daesh is bombed by the international coalition led by the United States, Britain, Turkey, Jordan, as well as Russia and the forces fighting them in Syria. And the Al-Nosra Front, the Al-Nosra Front brought (and supported) by the Americans and their Turkish and Gulf allies, the Al-Nosra Front is now bombed in Idlib and at the West of Aleppo. Is not that what I told you six years ago? Now we hear voices rising from Idlib and West of Aleppo against America, its betrayals and hypocrisy. Did you sleep well? After destroying Syria, after destroying Iraq, after destroying Yemen, you finally wake up and you understand? (You realize the nature of) this treacherous and hypocritical America, who uses you then massacres you? That is the truth.
And with that, of course, Israel interferes every day, with various pretexts. The pretext of striking weapons intended for Hezbollah, as they claimed yesterday, for any pretext: on the pretext that a mortar shell hit the Golan (occupied), etc., Israel intervenes and strikes positions of the Syrian Army in order to provide support and assistance to Daesh and these (other) terrorist groups. Today, this arrogant and occupying project, the project of hegemony and control over Syria, I frankly declare to you that it has failed, and that Syria has won, but that it is still waiting for the great and decisive victory. As for the rest of the factions, Daesh will disappear. And the Al-Nosra Front will disappear. And the terrorist takfiri groups will disappear. It is only a matter of time.
Even the world that supported, funded, helped and assisted them has now abandoned them and is fighting them. For the spell has turned against the sorcerer. For the world has discovered that this serpent which he has raised in his bosom (and launched against Syria) has become a danger and a poison to him, in Paris, London, Germany, Belgium, inside Turkey, the United States, Saudi Arabia, etc.
The rest of the factions of the Syrian opposition, what is their current situation? They have no leader, no leadership, no united front, no national project, they don’t know what they want, they are divided, lost, and wander between (foreign) embassies and security services. Yes, there is still a bet on patriotic personalities or cadres of the opposition, that they can participate in the political solution and dialogue to rebuild Syria.
Today, for the commemoration of the birth of (Fatima al-Zahra), the daughter of the Prophet of God, who was sent to the worlds as a Mercy, allow me to renew my address to all those still fighting in Syria in the enemy front, and who believe that they are fighting in the front of Islam, the front of the (Islamic) Community or the front of the Fatherland, and who are 100% wrong. Allow me to appeal to them, to address them and tell them: this project has failed. Your struggle is in vain and leads to nothing but more deaths, battles and destruction, and bloodshed on both sides, which benefits America and Israel.
Look, Netanyahu went to Moscow imploring. Why? He went to intercede with President Putin because he is afraid of the defeat of Daesh in Syria. For the defeat of Daesh for Putin – excuse me, for Netanyahu, constitutes a victory for the Resistance and the Resistance Axis. Because for Netanyahu, Daesh’s defeat in Syria is a failure of the project he has supported for 6 years. So he went to beg (Putin). Oh, what do you do with Daesh, calm down with Daesh! For if you finish Daesh, what are you going to do with Iran, Hezbollah, President Assad, and the rest of the Resistance Axis?
Do not believe, (you Daesh fighters), that you are on the Front of Islam, the Community or the Fatherland. Whether you realize it or not, you have fought for 6 years on the Front of America and Israel and the Front of those who plot against you to kill you, imprison you and massacre you. Will not all this blood poured in Syria and Iraq awaken you? Is not that enough to reconsider things? I call upon them to lay down their arms, to cease fighting, to a real ceasefire, to seek a genuine humanitarian and political solution, to leave the front of hypocrisy for the front of Islam, leave Israel and America for the front of the Community, and leave the front of the enemy for the front of the Resistance. And it is still possible. It is still possible. (I call them to) stop these destructions. Your project has no future.
The Resistance Axis, as we said in the first days and months, today, after six years, from the beginning, we declared that the Resistance Axis would not be defeated in Syria, neither in Iraq, nor in Yemen, and that it would not break. And now that six years have passed, the Resistance Axis triumphs in Syria, and it triumphs in Iraq, and it is steadfast in Yemen where it will also win, if God wills, a great decisive victory. But these people must be aware of what they do with their lives, their blood, their future and their afterlife, and they must reconsider all their bloody actions that persist in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
Last week President Trump significantly escalated the US military presence in Syria, sending some 400 Marines to the ISIS-controlled Raqqa, and several dozen Army Rangers to the contested area around Manbij. According to press reports he will also station some 2,500 more US troops in Kuwait to be used as he wishes in Iraq and Syria.
Not only is it illegal under international law to send troops into another country without permission, it is also against US law for President Trump to take the country to war without a declaration. But not only is Trump’s first big war illegal: it is doomed to failure because it makes no sense.
President Trump says the purpose of the escalation is to defeat ISIS in Raqqa, its headquarters in Syria. However the Syrian Army with its allies Russia and Iran are already close to defeating ISIS in Syria. Why must the US military be sent in when the Syrian army is already winning? Does Trump wish to occupy eastern Syria and put a Washington-backed rebel government in charge? Has anyone told President Trump what that would to cost in dollars and lives – including American lives? How would this US-backed rebel government respond to the approach of a Syrian army backed up by the Russian military?
Is Trump planning on handing eastern Syria over to the Kurds, who have been doing much of the fighting in the area? How does he think NATO-ally Turkey would take a de facto Kurdistan carved out of Syria with its eyes on Kurdish-inhabited southern Turkey?
And besides, by what rights would Washington carve up Syria or any other country?
Or is Trump going to give up on the US policy of “regime change” and hand conquered eastern Syria back to Assad? If that is the case, why waste American lives and money if the Syrians and their allies are already doing the job? Candidate Trump even said he was perfectly happy with Russia and Syria getting rid of ISIS. If US policy is shifting toward accepting an Assad victory, it could be achieved by ending arms supplies to the rebels and getting out of the way.
It does not appear that President Trump or his advisors have thought through what happens next if the US military takes possession of Raqqa, Syria. What is the endgame? Maybe the neocons told him it would be a “cakewalk” as they promised before the 2003 Iraq invasion.
Part of the problem is that President Trump’s advisors believe the myth that the US “surge” in Iraq and Afghanistan was a great success and repeating it would bring the victory that eluded Obama with his reliance of drones and proxy military forces. A big show of US military force on the ground – like the 100,000 sent to Afghanistan by Obama in 2009 – is what is needed in Syria, these experts argue. Rarely is it asked that if the surge worked so well why are Afghanistan and Iraq still a disaster?
President Trump’s escalation in Syria is doomed to failure. He is being drawn into a quagmire by the neocons that will destroy scores of lives, cost us a fortune, and may well ruin his presidency. He must de-escalate immediately before it is too late.