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The Road to Understanding Syria Goes Through Iraq

Returning to Iraq After a Decade in Exile (Part One)

By Louis Yako | CounterPunch | June 23, 2017

It should not be a secret to any independent and conscientious thinker, writer, or journalist that what has been happening in Syria since 2011 is nothing but complex and dirty attempts by multiple regional and global powers to “Iraqize” Syria by other means. But, alas, we have very few writers and journalists not on the payroll of the empire or the oppressive powers in today’s world. With few exceptions, most accounts and narratives I hear from and read by the so-called “journalists” and “experts” about Middle East affairs remind me of Upton Sinclair’s immortal words in his workI, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked, where he writes “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it.”

What has been happening in Syria is nothing but an attempt to destroy the Syrian people, institutions, and society in order to restructure them in the image of the imperial, neocolonial players involved in this dirty war. The imperial and neocolonial force in our world today is concentrated in the hands of the few minority who have the American and most of the European political, economic, military, and media machine at their fingertips. In this sense, it is crucial to understand that what is happening around the world as a result of the Euro-American foreign policies is beyond the control of most American and European people at this point. Most Americans and Europeans are as unfree and suffocated as the Iraqi and the Syrian people in stopping this war machine that has caused irreparable damages to all parties affected. The only difference here is that the politically powerless and suffocated Americans and Europeans are not forced to live in refugee camps, which gives many the illusion of “privilege” and “democracy”, and therefore slows down any serious action to do something about what is going on. Yet most of the American people are crushed daily by the oppressive American economic system, working under slavery-like conditions, just to make it one day at a time, while the war machine is grinding millions of lives in different countries around the world, and under different pretexts. After living more than a decade in America now, I have come to accept that most of my fellow American citizens are as powerless as I am in influencing the American foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. Even more discouraging is that, by pointing out this reality, one is immediately labeled as “un-American”, “anti-American”, or other misleading adjectives and accusations to silence any voices seeking to change this bleak reality. This needs to be challenged by all of us, if we really want better lives and healthier societies.

Today I would like to share with you a “thick description” of how I saw and what I saw in Iraq when I returned to it after one decade in exile in 2015 to conduct a year-long anthropological research for my doctorate degree. I want to paint for you an image of what has become of Iraq, after more than a decade of its invasion, to hopefully give you some important clues as to why the Syrian war has been happening since 2011, and what kind of Syria do the involved neocolonial and imperial players want to create once they finish destroying Syria as we knew. I argue that the road to understanding the future of Syria goes through what has been happening in Iraq. It is the same game, with many of the same players involved. What is happening today has happened yesterday and will happen tomorrow also, unless we take serious steps to stop it.

***

After one decade in exile, I returned to Iraq seeking a better understanding of what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. I returned this time as a trained cultural anthropologist to conduct fieldwork on a population that has always had a significant impact on my life and memory—Iraq’s academics. After two previous researches in the UK and Jordan (2013-2014), I decided to spend one academic year in Iraq because I knew that the internally displaced academics trapped inside; those who weren’t “successful” or “fortunate” enough to escape wars and violence through the bottleneck, had so much to say about Iraq. After all, I am a child of wars, sanctions, and political upheavals. I know what it means to be trapped inside and what it means to slip through the bottleneck, without ever truly recovering from the wounds inflicted upon us inside the bottle. I opened my eyes in this world in the 1980s, with the then ongoing Iran-Iraq war. I witnessed much violence and destruction. I saw countless dead bodies during the First Gulf War. The thirteen years of the UN sanctions robbed me of the most beautiful childhood and teenage years. The 2003 invasion of Iraq just barely allowed me to safely finish my undergraduate studies at the University of Baghdad, before I had to eventually leave the country into exile in 2005 to escape death and violence. Because of all these experiences that could take multiple books to fill, I knew that my interlocutors, especially those academics trapped inside, whose lives are strongly tied to and shaped by political upheavals and power relations, had so much to say about the story of Iraq. Before the end of my first week in Iraq in 2015, my personal observations and experiences already started to paint a picture about the story this story was going tell. What I experienced from the moment I was at the airport in Sweden heading to Iraq in September 2015, until the end of the first week in Iraq proved to me that the personal is political and anthropological.

After a long journey with wars, moving, and exile, life has grounded me like coffee beans. My mother used to say that “coffee beans have less value as whole beans.” They must be painfully ground to become this delicious, stimulating, and awakening drink called “coffee”. After ten years in exile, here I was in Stockholm in September 2015 packing my bag to go back to Iraq. I couldn’t believe it was going to happen in less than 24 hours. I was anxious that entire day. I couldn’t sleep or do anything. I went out roaming. I greeted a stranger and had a short conversation. He turned out to be an Armenian in his twenties, thirsty for warm human connection after many lonely, long, and cold Scandinavian winters. He was delighted to meet an Assyrian Christian from Iraq. He invited me for a meal at a nearby Middle Eastern restaurant followed by a walk. It was an ideal way to spend those few hours before heading to the airport. I spoke little. He spent most of the time talking about how much he hated Turkey and the Turks; and how racist the Swedes are towards immigrants no matter how much they like to sugarcoat this fact and claim otherwise.

Towards the end of the evening, the Armenian stranger who was no longer a stranger, asked what I thought about “home” and “exile”, because he had been struggling with these ideas for years in Sweden. I told him that life has taught me that it is possible that things, ideas, concepts, and feelings can have the opposite meaning of what one might see at the surface. It was possible that people can be the opposite of what they claim to be. It was possible that “home” could signify “exile” or the other way around. Laughter may be tears in disguise. Revolutions may be yet other oppressive powers taking the carpet from under the feet of the current oppressive powers. Going to the top of the mountain may not really mean “going up”. It can in fact be a harsh form of falling; just as fame, cheers, and camera flashes have ultimately led to the demise of countless insecure and lonely souls on this planet. In brief, it was possible that everything we are told and taught is the opposite of what we think, or it might be outright false. I told him that I go through life remembering my mom’s oldest advice that “succeeding in an unjust world is the first sign of failure, because it means you’re cooperating with injustice.” I told him that I carry like a talisman around my neck André Gide’s words: “Fish die belly upward, and rise to the surface. It’s their way of falling.”

My new Armenian acquaintance took an interest in these reflections and asked that we should stay in touch. He walked with me to the door of the apartment building, we said goodbye like two old friends, and he vanished in the crowd as though the whole encounter was nothing but an escaping dream. I thought my year of research wrestling with home, exile, and displacement as some of the most political and politicized concepts of our time had already started in Stockholm.

***

The day was September 11, 2015. The place was Arlanda Airport in Stockholm. The time was an early hour in the morning. I was waiting in a line to check in my luggage into the flight that was going to land me in Erbil, Iraq. After an entire decade, here I was going back to see how the many people, places, and things I left behind had continued their lives (and deaths) in my absence. I reminded myself that just as I was changing in exile, so were all the people and things I left behind in Iraq. I reminded myself that it was going to be an encounter between two changed and constantly changing parties. I had to be prepared that some (or many) images of what Iraq used to be in my head may no longer exist.

The check-in line was long. I started looking at the faces of the people waiting, their looks, their clothes, and their luggage. The guy behind me had his headphones on with a traditional Turkman folklore song from Kirkuk blasting. I could hear the song oozing out of his headphones. It was a song that many of our Turkmen neighbors and friends in Kirkuk used to play at weddings. My ears immediately recognized the words: “beyaz gül kırmızı gül güller arasından gelir…” [White rose, red rose, she comes through roses]. I didn’t particularly like the song as a child, but I did at that moment because it was much more than a song. Time had transformed it into fossilized moments and faces of distant people, places, and moments that I may never see again, except in my daydreams. In front of me in the line there were two Kurdish families. They seemed to have just met at the airport. They were speaking in two different Kurdish dialects (Kurmanci and Sorani). These two groups usually don’t like each other, particularly since the intra-Kurdish struggle in the 1990s. But, I thought to myself, in exile people have no choice. They simply learn how absurd their differences at “home” were compared to what they endure in foreign lands. They learn how to love the remotest things, scents, and traces that remind them of a lost home and a lost life. The husbands were talking about how convenient it was to have a direct flight from Stockholm to Erbil, but they complained that the flight was too early. The wives were discussing the “right” age for children to start articulating their first words. Further down in line I saw a few guys joking and laughing loudly in a Baghdadi Arabic dialect. They were making sarcastic remarks without taking notice of anyone around them. I already felt like I was in a small version of the Iraq I knew and missed so much, though I knew this might not be the case when I arrive. Perhaps, the Iraq I knew is now more accessible in exile than it is possible at home.

Most passengers in the check-in line were Iraqis. Many were Kurds. Some were Arabs. I spotted a few Christian families. I heard two ladies speaking in my mother tongue, Aramaic, with a golden cross hanging around the neck of one of them. I overheard one talking about how a relative, a refugee in Lebanon, had just been accepted to immigrate to Australia. These conversations are hardly foreign to my ears. Before I left Iraq, many people were either talking about leaving or celebrating how some of their friends or relatives had left, hoping they would be next. Most people want to leave without even knowing whether they will ever “arrive” somewhere.

Ironically–or perhaps not–all the passengers had foreign passports in their hands, including myself. I spotted Swedish, Danish, German, and other EU passports. This, too, was hardly surprising to me. The effects of wars and everything that has happened to Iraq and the Iraqi people over the last few decades made the only way an Iraqi could be treated with dignity in Iraq and elsewhere is if they hold foreign—namely Western—passports. A “good” or a “fortunate” Iraqi can almost be defined as someone who holds a western passport. The Iraqi passport is paralyzing. Like its holders, it is a “suspect” in every airport, every checkpoint, and every point of entry. As an Iraqi, one is not welcome anywhere. One is almost questioned to death before allowed entrance to any country. However, one is always welcome to exit any place or port with no questions asked. Every authority and every official thinks they have the right to interrogate an Iraqi without a second thought. Iraqis know well that holding that useless document called an “Iraqi passport” is a curse at this point in history. But, of course, this is hardly the only such case. Most passport holders who come from nations whose people count as “the wretched of the earth” experience different forms of discrimination and exclusion. Some experiences are more severe than others. It is all about power, or lack thereof. Your passport has a power. It is not just a document that helps you pass, it can become a sign of humiliation preventing you from passing. Many Iraqis I know joke about the very words on the inside cover of Iraqi passports stating: “all competent authorities are requested to accord bearer of this passport protection to allow him/her all possible assistance in case of need.” Every place an Iraqi goes to, the opposite of this statement is what happens. These words are just one more example of how things can have the exact opposite meaning of their appearance as with “home” and “exile”, “peace” and “war”, “honesty” and “dishonesty”, and countless other words in different languages. I thought to myself how irritated I have become about my first language, my second language, my third language, and all the languages I speak. Words increasingly don’t mean what they are supposed to mean in all these languages. Languages are increasingly becoming tools for disguising ideas rather than disclosing them. It suddenly crossed my mind that perhaps one day I will be forced to put every single word I write in quotation marks. Nothing means what it is supposed to mean. I dreamt of a day and a world in which everyone means what they say and say what they mean.

When my turn came, the blonde, cordial, female Swedish employee checking passports and handing boarding passes looked at my American passport and asked “I see that you were born in Iraq. Do you have an Iraqi passport?” “No. It is expired,” I answered. She went on, “you know people over there are not crazy about American passports. Let me see your Iraqi passport, even if it’s expired.” She took a quick look, checked in my bag, and directed me to the designated gate. I couldn’t help thinking: why should she care? I am going to Iraq not coming from it. She would care more if the process was reversed, because it is more important to keep Sweden safe than Iraq. What if my passport was fake? What if I was a “terrorist”? It doesn’t matter. Perhaps it is better for “terrorists” to exit Europe than enter and cause problems. Is this why many of them are now in Syria? Moreover, her words were far from accurate. I know many American and Western expats living in Iraq and they love it there. I wondered whether she was fed too much propaganda about Iraq and the region.

***

I arrived in Erbil shortly after 10:30 am. After greeting the friendly Kurd female officer at the passport control in Kurdish, she stamped my passport and here I was officially in Iraq. As I was walking to the baggage claim area in the small and clean airport, I remembered that I had no one from my family or relatives to meet me. My immediate family members had all left Iraq over the last ten years because of the war. My relatives who are left there, from both parents’ sides, are not in that city and I hadn’t announced to most of them that I was coming. I wanted to land in the airport for real before I could surely tell anyone that I was in Iraq.

The only person who was waiting for me in the airport was my American brother-in-law. I wondered what the Swede who checked my passport at Arlanda would have thought about that. My American brother-in-law is a lovely and helpful guy. He came to Iraq after 2003, fell in love with the country, and decided that he would rather live in Erbil than in the U.S. He feels “freer” in Erbil, he often says. He is not alone in this feeling. Many expats I know love “third world” countries. Many don’t mind settling and getting married in them while the locals in these countries are escaping from all directions. The reason is simple: they are treated better than the local citizens in these “third world” countries and even better than the treatment they would receive in their “industrialized” countries in the “developed” world. Again, it is all about power. Who has it and where. Despite my gratitude that he had come to pick me up, I still found this ironic and painful. An American is the only one at the airport to pick me up at what was once my beloved country. It felt as though that complex line between “home” and “exile” was being challenged from the moment I returned to Iraq. I decided, however, that it wasn’t helpful to dwell on this thought. I decided not to let anything spoil my first intimate moments of embracing Iraq’s skies, lands, trees, roses, buildings, streets, faces, scents, and everyone and everything that has been living and growing in my imagination during the past decade in exile.

I spent the first couple of days in Erbil, mostly with my brother-in-law and some of his foreign expat friends who gave me some tips about life there. They shared things they knew better than me because they had been there and I hadn’t. I soon learned about the new malls, the best hotels, the residential buildings where many expats and rich locals live in places with names like the “English village”, the “Italian village”, the “Lebanese village”, and so on. I thought about how in every “third world” country that gets “liberated” from its dictators, the first things that go up are luxurious hotels and residential areas for Western expats and “experts”, along with gated communities from which to administer the newly formed governments in places like Baghdad’s Green Zone. The expats in Erbil also told me about things as simple as where to get a local sim card for my phone, where to get the best haircut, and the costs of basic foods.

I felt alienated on my first night. It was a feeling identical to how I felt on my first night in America ten years ago. I was lonely, thrown into a strange land. I went out that evening in the majority Christian district of Ankawa in the outskirts of Erbil to buy a sim card. It was a hot September evening. As I greeted the seller at the random shop I entered, he paused, stared at me, and asked: “Are you Louis?”  “Yes I am. Wait, don’t tell me who you are. I think I also recognize your face, but I have to add ten years of change to it.” I recognized him. He was one of our old neighbors in Kirkuk. They had to move to Erbil as security deteriorated after 2003. That was a comforting first connection. It made me feel I am less a stranger than I thought. I am still remembered. I still exist. But that wasn’t enough. I wanted more closeness than an old neighbor to feel at home again. I immediately activated my sim card and called my aunt in Duhok, two and half hours north of Erbil. She could sense how sad my tone was on the phone and said, “I will be waiting for you tomorrow…” I went to the bus and taxi station in Erbil the next day to get a taxi and headed to Duhok, the place where I spent the early years of my childhood. A beautiful small city sandwiched between two mountains.

At around 1:30 pm, in the shared taxi heading to Duhok, the passengers were all friendly Kurds. I greeted the driver and the passengers in Kurdish and then started looking out the window to check out the scenery. I heard the two guys next to me saying: “thank God there are no Arab passengers in the taxi. Arab passengers always cause delays at the checkpoints.” As the taxi moved, I started checking out all the new buildings and neat streets in Erbil. It was clear from the old and the new infrastructure that whereas some people have gotten better off, others had gotten worse off, or simply stayed as they were. Infrastructure reveals so much about a place and its culture, politics, and people. The disparities between the poor and the rich neighborhoods in Erbil, in a sense, show that “time” wasn’t ticking at the same pace for everyone. Time wasn’t moving favorably for everyone. Even time is like power in that it moves some people forward, some backward, and some to the sides and the margins. Time also buries some people under the ground. I noticed many unfinished construction and apartment buildings. It looked as though there was an “economic boom” that was abruptly halted by unexpected circumstances made certain parts of the city look like dilapidated ghost towns. As we were exiting Erbil, at every traffic light we stopped, there were poor Syrian or Yazidi women and children begging drivers to buy gum, tissues, and other simple items. Some of these women of different ages ranging from 11 to 30 were so beautiful that it wouldn’t be surprising if they were forced to sell other things to get their meals for the day.

Over time, I discovered that many of the women living in tents and dilapidated and deserted buildings have been selling their bodies to make living. In Erbil’s well-known Christian district of Ankawa, I discovered by talking with taxi drivers, that many beauty salons have been turned into places where buyers (men) park their cars and wait to pick up internally displaced women who escaped ISIS-occupied parts of Iraq and Syria.

***

The driver taking us to Duhok was talking to the front seat passenger about how bad the economy was, there were no salaries for public sector employees, and so on. I understood that the bad economy had suddenly crippled the Iraqi Kurdistan region. Consequently, public sector employees (most people) were only getting salaries every few months due to deep divisions between Kurdistan and Baghdad. I heard some passengers talking about hopefully resolving oil problems with Baghdad soon so that things could improve. Baghdad has been withholding Kurdistan’s 17% share of oil revenues, because the latter has been drilling, extracting, and selling oil through “illegal” contracts with foreign companies without Baghdad’s permission. The Iraqi officials in Baghdad, the passengers explained, told the Kurds that if they want to get their share, they must share what they’re selling from their region with the central government. The refusal of the Kurd officials to abide by this and the fact that many of Kurdistan’s oil searches had been less promising than originally anticipated caused a serious economic problem in the region. This was the main topic the passengers discussed most of the trip.

As the taxi continued driving, I kept looking out the window checking out the many villages and small towns we passed through, as we left Erbil behind. Not much has changed in these villages and little towns, except one could see more “fancy” houses in the villagers’ standards. It was an indication that some individuals have been making a lot of money to renovate or build all these new houses. They looked expensive but also indicated a recently acquired financial capital. I noticed how many spaces that used to be beautiful and green agricultural lands on the way had turned into depressing, ugly, half-finished cement buildings. Furthermore, there was a clear disparity between how extravagant many individual houses looked versus the poor state of  public services like sewage and streets, that were still exactly the same in most places since the Ba‘ath era. During its 35 years in power, the Ba‘ath regime had made serious efforts to modernize Iraq’s infrastructure in cities and villages. The road from Erbil to Duhok was the same since the Saddam years. It was narrow, dangerous, and filled with pit holes that have only worsened over the years. I saw a clear pattern of how most wealth was being used for individual rather than communal interests. These images reminded me of the anthropological literature we studied on “development”. Development looked so much like destruction.

My thoughts were interrupted when we stopped at a checkpoint—there were so many of them—and the officer asked everyone to present their IDs. I presented the only valid ID I had on me, my American passport. As soon as he looked at it, he asked me to get out of the car. He said to the officer next to him in Kurdish, “We need to check this to make sure it’s not a forged passport.” The checkpoint looked like a kiosk that barely had a wood cover on the top to protect them from Iraq’s unforgiving summer sun. I wondered with what they were going to check the “validity” of the passport when they didn’t seem to have any equipment or machines in place. I decided to just talk to them. I spoke in Kurdish and told the officer that I am from the region and I was just back after ten years in America, which is why I don’t have a valid local ID. My IDs had expired. As soon as I spoke in Kurdish and he heard my name, his tone changed 180 degrees, “Welcome home, my dear brother!” I went back inside the taxi and it drove away.

I told the driver the same brief story of why I had no valid local IDs and that I am a local of the region, so this helped for the rest of the trip. He did the talking on my behalf at the other checkpoints and everything went smoothly. I could only imagine how an Arab would feel and be treated when going through all these checkpoints where one could pass just by simply speaking Kurdish or be stranded even if they had valid IDs, but didn’t speak the language. In many ways, the language, the sect, and the ethnicity are the IDs in post-U.S. occupation Iraq–the “new Iraq”. In fact, at many checkpoints, I observed, that they wouldn’t even ask for an ID. The first thing they would do is to profile the person based on their face and language. If it became clear that they didn’t speak the language, they would be stranded and interrogated. I noticed over time that some displaced Arabs had learned what one might call “basic checkpoint Kurdish”. But even that was no guarantee for “passing”. The officers could recognize faces. Arabs or Arab-looking people were to be interrogated and even humiliated. Further, sometimes they would linger with the conversation and by the second or the third question, the Arab’s “checkpoint Kurdish” would become inadequate to carry on a conversation, and therefore create serious difficulties for them. Humans can become sophisticated over time to navigate power and its hurdles, but so does power. It is a two-way street. There is no break. One must keep reinventing themselves in this harsh world of power relations to survive.

My impressions from the first days and before even reaching Duhok was that the “new Iraq” was operating on ethnicity and sect; on language as a metonym for power and disempowerment; and on residency cards as a prerequisite for existence for those not from the northern region, especially Arabs. What all these elements have in common is their resemblance to the pan-Arabist project. In fact, today’s reality is a violently amplified and more intense version of the former pan-Arabism, which one would think was over. It wasn’t over. It was only passed on from some actors to others to implement this new project called “the new Iraq” or “the new Middle East” imposed and facilitated by the American invasion. There was a deep anti-Arab sentiment to the extent that it is a blessing not to be an Arab then and there.

Little did I know that these first observations and encounters from the early days were going to be central for understanding the lives of the internally displaced Iraqis in the region. Little did I know that exile and internal displacement for the interlocutors of my research project were first and foremost an expression of shifting power relations, which had turned them overnight from vital actors in the Iraqi society before 2003 into exiled, internally displaced, disempowered people whose lives are now tied to temporary contracts, residency cards, and living in a permanent state of fear and precariousness in what is supposed to be their own country. My first week in Iraq made it clear that the losses incurred by all Iraqi people are significant and ongoing. Therefore, it is only through tracing these losses from home to exile that we can understand the deeper meaning of these stories. Tracing back the story to “home” is to trace back the story of loss for these people to its early beginnings. The bleak reality of Iraq as a “home” reminded of the last part of a beautiful and sad poem titled “The Fortune Teller” by the great Syrian poet, Nizar Qabani, in which the fortune teller, speaking about the beloved woman of the man whose coffee cup she is reading says:

You will seek her everywhere, my son

You will ask the waves of the sea about her

You will ask the shores of the seas

You will travel the oceans

And your tears will flow like a river

And at the close of your life

You will find that since your beloved

Has no land, no home, no address

You have been pursuing only a trace of smoke

How difficult it is, my son

To love a woman

Who has neither land, nor home..

Louis Yako is an independent Iraqi-American writer, poet, cultural anthropologist, journalist, and researcher.

June 25, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , | Leave a comment

Five Takeaways from Iran’s Missile Strike in Syria

Tehran’s strike was targeted at Islamic State but it also puts US bases in the region on notice and exposes the flimsiness of the Trump Administration’s Middle East policy

By M.K. BHADRAKUMAR | Asia Times | June 20, 2017

At its most obvious level, Iran’s missile attack on the Islamic State command centre in the Syrian city of Dier Ezzor on Sunday may be regarded as the demonstration of an extraordinarily innovative military capability.

Iran says it fired six ground-to-ground missiles from Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) bases in Kermanshah and Kurdistan provinces, both in Western Iran, and that they “hit the targets in Deir Ezzur with high precision after flying through the Iraqi airspace.”

The footage shows that at least one of the missiles was of the Zolfaqar class and at least one more was of the Qiam class, both indigenously developed missiles. Zolfaqar is the latest generation of Iran’s mid-range missiles. It can hit targets up to 700 kilometres away and is capable of carrying a Multiple-Entry Vehicle payload. Qiam is a surface-to-surface cruise missile.

From all accounts, the missiles hit their target with devastating precision. Simply put, Iran has notified the US that its 45,000 troops deployed in bases in Iraq (5,165), Kuwait (15,000), Bahrain (7,000), Qatar (10,000), the UAE (5,000) and Oman (200) are highly vulnerable.

The Chief of Staff of Iran’s armed forces, Gen. Mohammad Hossein Baqueri, said on Monday: “Iran is among the world’s big powers in the missile field. They (read the US and its allies) don’t have the capability to engage in conflict with us at present, and of course, we don’t intend to involve in clashes with them, but we are in permanent rivalry with them in different fields, including the missile sector.”

Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, a military aide to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, had specifically forewarned Washington last Wednesday that “if the US decides to start any war against Iran, all its military bases in the region will experience insecurity.”

Clearly, the missile strike constitutes a snub to the US Senators who passed a bill on Friday imposing more sanctions against Iran over its missile program. It is also a defiant response to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s ill-conceived remark on Wednesday that the Trump administration’s policy towards Iran includes “regime change”.

However, there are five other takeaways, all of which have downstream implications.

Wake-up call

For a start, the Iranian leadership seems to have concluded that the strategic restraint exercised over the past 3-4 years since negotiations on the nuclear issue began, is being misunderstood by the Trump team. On Sunday, Khamenei launched a vitriolic attack on US policies.

As Tehran sees it, the Trump team, which lacks experience in international diplomacy, might harbour notions that Iran’s moderation in recent years is a sign of weakness or lack of political resolve on the part of the moderate-reformist leadership of President Hassan Rouhani.

Most certainly, Tehran expects that its iron-fist display on Sunday will serve as a wake-up call to the Trump administration. This finds echo in the words of the influential Secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council Mohsen Rezayee, who is also a former IRGC commander: “After four years in office, Tillerson will come to understand Iran.”

Setting a precedent

Two, Iran has created a hugely consequential precedent. Make no mistake, Tehran will hit ISIS again, reckoning it to be “like a wild dog that we can annihilate easily along with its masters.” Of course, this will impact the overall military balance in both Syria and Iraq.

Again, if ISIS can be targeted, why not other extremist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda, some of which might be enjoying covert support from the US or its regional allies?

Quadrilateral cooperation

Three, the fact that Tehran coordinated Sunday’s missile strikes in advance with Russia, Iraq and Syria is an important signal in geopolitical terms and in regional politics. Centered around Baghdad, the quadrilateral mechanism involving these four countries has openly acknowledged that such coordination took place. It didn’t have to do that, but it did so with deliberation.

All-out rivalry

Four, against the backdrop of a series of unfriendly and provocative moves by the US against Iran in recent weeks at different levels, it is a fair assumption that Iran’s willingness to cooperate with the Trump administration on the path to a settlement in Syria is now virtually nil. Equally, it remains to be seen what follows next in Iraq after the liberation of Mosul.

Specifically, an all-out rivalry between the US and Iran can now be expected on the ground for control of the Syrian-Iraqi border and southern Syria. It will be a miracle now if the US beats Iran in the race to take control of the strategic city of Dier Ezzor, which has become an emblematic military front for the latter. Iranian statements claim that the terrorist attacks in Tehran on June 7 were masterminded and executed from the ISIS command center in Dier Ezzor.

US policy adrift

Finally, Washington now has no option left but to accept Russian help to stabilize the “de-confliction” zones in southern Syria bordering Jordan and the Golan Heights. Yet, incredibly enough, the Pentagon chose just this moment to provoke Moscow by shooting down a Syrian jet on Sunday – albeit a few hours ahead of the Iranian missile strike.

Moscow has put the Pentagon on notice that henceforth all American aircraft and flying objects in the Syrian air space will be treated as “targets”. Coming on top of the bizarre policy somersaults over Qatar in the past week, not to mention the fake arms deal with Saudi Arabia, the Trump administration’s Middle East policy looks adrift, lacking intellectual content and diplomatic acumen.

The veteran ex-CIA officer and Brookings scholar on the Middle East Bruce Riedel pondered aloud last week how an administration so abysmally lacking in talent and diplomatic experience could cope with a first-rate crisis situation such as a war in Gaza or Lebanon.

Of course, in immediate terms, it remains to be seen how the Trump administration handles the Iran sanctions bill given the latest developments. The Iranian Majlis plans to adopt counter-measures vis-à-vis the proposed US legislation, which it regards as a blatant violation of the matrix of understanding reached under the nuclear deal of July 2015.

June 21, 2017 Posted by | Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Up to 15 tons of depleted uranium used in 1999 Serbia bombing’ – lead lawyer in suit against NATO

RT | June 13, 2017

An international legal team is preparing a lawsuit against NATO over the alliance’s alleged use of depleted uranium munitions during its bombing of Yugoslavia. These have allegedly caused a rise in cancer-related illnesses across the region over the years.

“The NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999 used between 10 and 15 tons of depleted uranium, which caused a major environmental disaster,” said Srdjan Aleksic, a Serbian lawyer who leads the legal team, which includes lawyers from the EU, Russia, China and India.

“In Serbia, 33,000 people fall sick because of this every year. That is one child every day,” he claimed.

NATO’s press office says it’s now aware of Serbia’s allegations, but gave no further comment.

When asked as of why Serbia has decided to sue NATO 19 years after the attacks, the lawyer said “considering the horrific consequences for our population… it is never too late to sue someone who has caused an environmental catastrophe, someone [who] bombed Serbia with a quasi-nuclear weapon, i.e. depleted uranium.”

The Serbian lawyer says 19 countries that were part of NATO at the time need to pay compensation for “for the financial and non-financial damages… to all the citizens who died or fell sick as a proven result of the NATO bombing.”

“We expect the members of NATO to provide treatment to our citizens who are suffering from cancer,” Aleksic said, adding that the bloc “must also provide the necessary technology and equipment to remove all traces of the depleted uranium” from Serbia.

“The use of banned weapons” by the US-led military alliance in the Balkans “was a violation of all the international conventions and rules that protect people” from such kind of weapons, the lawyer claimed, adding that NATO also used depleted uranium in Iraq in 1991.

“The alliance has not been put on trial for this act, but the consequences are disastrous,” he said.

In its 2000 report on depleted uranium, NATO confirmed the use of the munitions both in Iraq and in the Balkans.

“In Iraq, about 300 metric tons of DU [depleted uranium] ammunition were fired by American and British troops. Recently, NATO confirmed the use of DU ammunition in Kosovo battlefields, where approximately 10 metric tons of DU were used,” the report says.

The UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has also admitted “there is evidence of use of depleted uranium (DU) projectiles by NATO aircraft during the bombing campaign.” However, the UN tribunal has pointed out that “there is no specific treaty ban on the use of DU projectiles.”

Reporting on the consequences of the use of such munitions for civil population and the environment, a NATO report said that “in the vicinity of the impact point of DU ammunitions, it is not excluded that individuals unaware of the contamination… could have accumulated radiation doses and/or could have incorporated uranium quantities exceeding the internationally recognized limits.”

In May, Balkan Insight reported that around 50 people from the Serbian city of Nis, who have been suffering from cancer and have “seemingly relevant medical documentation” have asked the legal team of 26 lawyers and professors to represent them in the case against NATO.

NATO launched airstrikes in what was then Yugoslavia in March 1999, having interfered in a sectarian conflict between Serbians and Kosovan Albanians. As clashes between the local population turned violent, the US-led military alliance made a decision to respond to what the it said was ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population of Kosovo, without the backing of the UN Security Council.

With no UN mandate, NATO bombing of Serbia lasted for three months, having resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths.

June 13, 2017 Posted by | Environmentalism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , | 1 Comment

Syrian Army, Hezbollah reaches border with Iraq for the first time in years

By Chris Tomson | Al-Masdar News | 09/06/2017

DAMASCUS – Late on Friday afternoon, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), Hezbollah and allied Iraqi paramilitary contingents dashed through southeastern Homs and reached an Iraqi border point, thus slicing adrift the frontline between rebel forces based in the Al-Tanf region and ISIS militants in the neighboring Deir Ezzor governorate.

Unopposed by the US Airforce and its vetted Syrian proxies, the SAA and its allies drove through over 40 kilometers of abandoned desert territory and managed to link up with an Iraqi garrison across the border.

The advance was confirmed by the Russian Ministry of Defense and an Hezbollah-linked outlet moments ago.

Effectively, the SAA is now able to reopen trade between Damascus and Baghdad. Government forces have not controlled any parts of the largely ISIS-controlled border with Iraq since 2014.

In addition, Hezbollah is now able to be supplied with weapons from Tehran via an all-important land route. Previously, the Lebanese group relied on complicated airlifts for new armaments.

June 10, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | 1 Comment

A confrontation is looming on the Iraq-Syria border

By Mehan Abedin | MEMO | June 6, 2017

Reports that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have warned Iraqi Shia militias not to enter SDF-controlled territory are, on the face of it, a potential addition to the complexity of the conflict in Syria. The SDF is dominated overwhelmingly by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian Kurdish militia which is politically and ideologically aligned to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The YPG is the key US ally in Syria and the spearhead of the imminent assault on the Daesh stronghold of Raqqa.

While it remains to be seen to what extent this belligerent statement by the SDF reflects official YPG policy, there can be little doubt that the inspiration for the move was the United States and the intended recipient of the message is Iran. It is the latest sign of an aggressive US posture in Syria vis-à-vis Tehran and forces aligned with the Iranians. In this instance the primary US objective is to block Iran from constructing a land corridor from Iraq all the way to the Syrian Mediterranean coast.

However, this latest escalation will reinforce Tehran’s determination to press ahead with its plans and to reap the rewards of its considerable investment of blood and money in the Syrian conflict. Iran holds the advantage in this tug of war, for not only is Tehran willing to risk military confrontation but it also has more assets on the ground, as well as greater long-term strategic resolve.

Iraqi dimension

The spectre of Iraqi Shia militias formally organised as Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) on the Iraq-Syria border is a clear sign of the shifting balance of power in Iraq in the wake of Daesh’s military collapse. Whilst the biggest winners of this collapse in north-western Iraq are the Iraqi Kurds, in the context of the US-Iran rivalry in the country, the Iranians have managed once again to outmanoeuvre their American foes. Both powers have invested considerable resources in the fight to dislodge Daesh from Mosul with a view to expanding their own influence in Iraq.

As the Iraqi army and specialised units of the federal Iraqi police force have borne the brunt of the fighting inside Mosul, by contrast the PMUs made a strategic push for areas west of the city. In view of the PMU’s multi-level connectivity to the infrastructure of Iranian influence in Iraq, this decision was almost certainly made in Tehran.

Control of sensitive points on the Iraq-Syria border is a key objective of the PMU, for reasons of deterrence and power projection. From a deterrent point of view, the control of borders creates a wider sense of security and deters Daesh and its allies from regrouping in nearby areas. In terms of power projection, the PMU needs to create an impression that it has the ability (if not the volition) to cross the border brazenly in organised form with a view to supporting the Syrian government and allied forces.

The volition aspect is important as hitherto the PMU has not formally crossed the border, even though large numbers of Iraqi Shia militiamen have undoubtedly crossed in order to augment their Syrian allies in multiple battle zones.

The latest belligerent statement by the SDF notwithstanding, in reality there is little risk of an imminent conflict between the PMU and the YPG. Despite their deep political and ideological differences, both sides share pragmatic common interests, not least antipathy towards Syrian rebels and jihadists.

Moreover, inside Iraq the PMU is allied to the Sinjar Resistance Units (SRU), an ideological compatriot of the YPG in so far as both groups are extensions of the PKK. There are reports that the PMU mopping-up operations at key points on the Iraq-Syria border are being supported actively by the SRU.

Syrian dimension

In grand strategic terms, PMU presence at key points of the Iraq-Syria border essentially means that Iran has established partial control over this sensitive border. Whilst this marks an expansion of Iranian influence in Iraq, its real significance lies in the messages it sends across the border in Syria.

In immediate terms, it is a response to recent US escalation, notably last month’s bombing of a pro-Syrian convoy close to al-Tanf. It is a sign of resolve by the Islamic Republic and a message that it will not sit idly by as the US sets about dominating north-east Syria by proxy, principally via the SDF.

At a deeper strategic level, it signifies Tehran’s resolve to construct the land corridor linking Iran to Syria. This project is vital to Iranian national security as well as wider economic and commercial considerations. Furthermore, the Iranians view this corridor as payoff for their unwavering support to the Syrian government from the onset of the conflict.

In view of the fact that a central aim of US concentration of forces, advisors and proxies in areas close to the Iraqi border appears to be to derail the Iranian land corridor project, a clash at some point is inevitable. De-escalation on this front by either party sends an unmistakable message of weakness with wider repercussions for control of post-conflict Syria.

Within Syria, though, the US is playing catch-up following years of relative disengagement. Absent the deployment of a sizeable military force to eastern Syria, the US is set to lose this tug of war with Iran. For a start, local US allies are neither reliable nor necessarily durable. As an umbrella organisation, the SDF is bound to fragment at some point, most likely following the military defeat of Daesh in Syria.

Whilst the core of the SDF, namely the PKK-aligned YPG, will remain a cohesive force, the durability of “Rojava” as a political entity inside Syria is not a valid proposition. All the key stakeholders in the conflict, notably the Syrian government, the Syrian opposition, the Syrian rebels on the ground, and not least Turkey, are fundamentally opposed to a PKK statelet inside Syria masquerading as Kurdish autonomy.

The battle for eastern Syria will begin in earnest following Daesh’s ejection from Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor. Absent a dramatic change in the confluence of perspectives, interests and events, US- and Iranian-aligned forces are set for a major clash in the region.

June 7, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | Leave a comment

The scramble for control of Syrian-Iraqi border

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | June 4, 2017

The remark by the Syrian Kurdish militia spokesman Saturday that their final assault on the ISIS “capital” city of Raqqa will start “in the coming few days” highlights the keen struggle for control of eastern Syria bordering Iraq that is playing out. The ISIS is staring at defeat and the issue now is what follows thereafter.

The big question is whether Syria survives or will get balkanized. The Russian President Vladimir Putin flagged this stark reality when he said on Friday,

  • Does the possible dismemberment of Syria arouse concern? It certainly does. We are establishing de-escalation zones now and we are afraid that these de-escalation zones may turn into a blueprint for future borders. Russia hopes these safety zones would serve to interact with the Assad government, to start at least some kind of a dialogue, some interaction, as this would help future political cooperation in order to restore Syria’s control over its entire territory and preserve the country’s territorial integrity.

Of course, there is the danger that Syrian war may become a “frozen conflict”. The key, therefore, lies in gaining control of Iraq’s border crossings with Syria across vast desert lands through which Iran renders vital help to the government forces and the Hezbollah and the Shi’ite fighters battling the insurgents and the ISIS.

As the map, here, shows, the Syrian-Iraqi border regions are largely under the control of either US-supported Kurdish and other insurgent fighters or the ISIS and other extremist groups. The Syrian government aspires to regain control of those regions.

Essentially, the struggle is for control of the border crossings that are depicted in the map. Clearly, the border crossing way up in the north is under the control of the Kurdish militia and it remains to be seen (a) whether the US would allow the Kurds to reach an understanding with Damascus; (b) whether Turkey will allow Kurds to consolidate their grip in that area; (c) whether the over-stretched government forces will take on the Kurds or, alternatively, will regard it to be tactically prudent to avoid a shooting match at this point and instead keep options open to eventually negotiate a power-sharing deal with the Kurds.

Unlike the northern front, the central and southern fronts are hotly contested. As the map shows, there is one border crossing in the central front at Al-Bukamal (where the Euphrates flows into Iraq) and another key border crossing is at Al-Tanf in the southern front.

In the central front, Bashar Al-Assad’s forces are in Palmyra and are making their way toward Deir Ezzor where a Syrian garrison is desperately holding out against a siege by the jihadi groups. The US appears to be encouraging the ISIS fighters in Raqqa to evacuate toward Deir Ezzor. But Russian cruise missile strikes recently targeted these ISIS convoys. (Sputnik) The US apparently prefers that somehow Assad’s forces must be prevented from reaching Deir Ezzor, because from there they could take control of the highway leading to the border crossing at Al-Bukamal. (See the map.)

Similarly in the southern front, the US is impeding the advance of the government forces to al-Tanf (which is connected to Damascus), another border crossing into Iraq. The US would hope that the rebel groups in al-Tanf will also seize control of the Al-Bukamal border crossing up north so that US proxies will be in control of the entire Syrian-Iraqi border as well as the southern Syrian region straddling the border with Jordan and the Golan Heights. The game here is essentially about cutting off Iran’s access to Lebanon (Hezbollah).

Why is it so important for the US to prevent Assad’s forces from taking control of the Al-Bukamal and Al-Tanf border crossings? Simply put, the spectre of a Damascus-Baghdad-Tehran land route reopening is what is haunting the US (and Israel), because such a solid land route will have a multiplier effect on Iran’s capacity to influence the future developments in Syria (and Lebanon).

The US has not directly jumped into the fray so far to take control of the Syria-Iraq border. It maintains the pretence that it is narrowly focused on fighting the ISIS. However, when it seemed that Assad’s forces were lunging toward Al-Tanf recently (May 18), the US forced them to turn back by launching an air strike.

The overall balance of forces does favour the Syrian government and in a conceivable future it should take control of Deir Ezzor, Al-Bukamal and Al-Tanf. Thus, the US will have to find a way to work around Assad (and Iran) than work against him. The other option will be to bear the heavy costs of a long-term, open-ended strategy of military intervention and occupation, which doesn’t figure in President Donald Trump’s foreign-policy calculus. The US’s best bet will be to seek some sort of understanding with Russia based on the premise that Moscow may not be fully sharing the agenda of Assad and his Iranian ally. But then, Moscow has no reason to bet on any other horse than the one it has been so far, which also happens to be a winning horse.

June 4, 2017 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Wars for Israel | , , , | Leave a comment

Syrian army ‘will ignore’ US air force border fight threat

Morning Star | May 30, 2017

SYRIA’S armed forces made clear yesterday that they will not obey US air force instructions to halt military operations near the Tanf border crossing with Iraq.

An army officer told Al-Masdar News that, despite the US air force dropping leaflets over Syrian army positions in south-east Homs at the weekend, army units will continue fighting against Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Isis militants until the entire Iraqi border with south-east Syria is sealed.

“Any movements toward Tanf will be considered hostile and we will defend our forces,” the US-led coalition leaflet read.

The officer added that the Russian military is deeply embedded with the Syrian army and their allies in southeast Homs and is backing continued operations.

Government forces greatly outnumber the Western-backed FSA in the region and the US allies also do not have the backing of the Iraqi government or the Shi’ite Popular Mobilisation Units that operate both in Iraqi desert areas west of Mosul and alongside Syrian government forces in south-east Homs.

US warplanes hit pro-Syrian government Palestinian fighters on May 18 on the pretext that they posed a threat to US troops and allied rebels near the border with Jordan.

Syrian army and allied paramilitary forces continued their successful campaign in the eastern Aleppo countryside yesterday afternoon, breaking through Isis defences and capturing the Ras al-Ayn village and its surroundings, heightening the pressure on the Isis stronghold of Maskanah.

The last batch of jihadist insurgents and their family members were transported in government-provided buses from the Barzeh suburb of east Damascus to Idlib province yesterday.

Their departure means that the Syrian government has full control of this suburb for the first time since late 2011.

Several rebels opted to remain in Barzeh and will have six months to resolve their status with the government.

Four members of the pro-Syrian government Harakat al-Nujaba militia, together with two Syrian army soldiers, were freed from year-long captivity in jihadi-controlled province Idlib on Sunday night after Nujaba fighters launched a behind-the-enemy-lines raid.

May 30, 2017 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , , | Leave a comment

Memo to US-led Iraqi coalition: ‘Best way to protect civilians is to stop bombing them’

RT | May 26, 2017

In the 16-year war on terrorism, we have seen the predictable and consistent increase in terrorism, the creation of ISIS, and the expansion of ISIS, says David Swanson, anti-war activist and author of War Is A Lie.

A US investigation found over a hundred Iraqi civilians died in a Coalition airstrike in Mosul in March, but put all the blame on Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

The civilians died when an American airstrike set off a large amount of explosives planted in a building by IS fighters in Mosul’s al-Jadida neighborhood, according to a Pentagon investigation which was made public on Thursday.

RT: The US says ISIS is to blame because its weapons stash was hit. Do you accept that argument?

David Swanson: Obviously, not. And this is the tip of the iceberg. If you look at the reports of known civilian deaths collected by organizations like Airwars, it is thousands every month. If you look at how known named civilian deaths relate to the total, in places that have been scientifically studied, you’ll find the total deaths of civilians is around 5-20 percent. We are talking about tens of thousands every month, ongoing. The discussion in the US always blames someone else or pretends it didn’t happen or delays it with an investigation like this one that is minimally reported when completed, but shuts down the story when it is a big story months or weeks earlier. The discussion in Washington, DC right now is about should we sell weapons to Saudi Arabia because they kill civilians. The US kills civilians, routinely. This is what happens when you bomb cities. This week the International Committee of the Red Cross and Interaction, a group of US human rights groups, put out a report on how you minimize killing people in cities and never once hinted at the possibility of ceasing to bomb cities and included things like live underground, form militias, absolutely outrageous. There is a total acceptance that you are going to go on bombing cities, but could you please do it with a little bit smaller bombs. It is still going to be murder.

RT: According to the Coalition, it simply didn’t know there were civilians inside. How much of an intelligence failure was this?

DS: The suggestion that it was a blatant lie is the obvious conclusion, and if it was not a blatant lie it was negligence in the extreme. These cities are places where people live and to blame someone else for using them as human shields is absolutely not satisfactory. To write off the deaths of anyone who is not a civilian as completely acceptable and not worth any value and not worth counting at all. In most of these places, including Iraq and Syria, the United States and its Coalition allies are killing more than one armed force of non-civilians in these wars. It is absolutely outrageous and passing the blame doesn’t cut it.

RT: Here is an extract from the Coalition statement: “The Coalition takes every feasible measure to protect civilians from harm. The best way to protect civilians is to defeat Islamic State.” Does this mean killing ISIS fighters takes priority over protecting civilian lives?

DS: In the calculation of the Pentagon, yes; in logic and verifiable facts, no. Through the course of this past 16 years of war on terrorism, you have seen the predictable and consistent increase in terrorism, you have seen the creation of ISIS, you have seen the expansion of ISIS. The best way to protect civilians is to stop bombing them, the best way to stop escalating anti-US and Western terrorism is to stop engaging in terrorism at a greater scale. The best way to make people grasp this issue is to tell the names and the stories as you would if it were in Manchester, England, not just the numbers. Treat them as human beings and the killing will stop.

May 26, 2017 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , | Leave a comment

Certain states boosting Takfiri firepower: Iran’s Shamkhani

Press TV – May 24, 2017

A senior Iranian official says a number of countries, either directly or indirectly, side with the Takfiri terrorists in Iraq and Syria, helping arm the outfits with devastating effects.

Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani made the remarks at a high-level international security summit underway in Russia’s northwestern city of Tver.

He further said that those countries would either directly transfer weapons to the Takfiri terrorists or hand them over to the so-called “moderate” militants, whom they have propped up themselves before the arms are taken away by the terrorists.

This, he said, is the reason why the weapons, which are in the hands of the Takfiri terror groups of Daesh and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as al-Nusra Front), are more advanced than the ones possessed by the Syrian and Iraqi armies.

Shamkhani reiterated that Iran’s ongoing provision of military advisory support to the Iraqi and Syrian armies was taking place at their respective governments’ request.

Acting on Damascus’ plea, Iran has been cooperating with Russia to push back terrorists in Syria. This, he said, has helped inflict serious losses on terrorist camps, separated them from the ranks of the armed Syrian opposition, and eventually contributed to the conclusion of last year’s ceasefire with the opposition.

Had the United Nations acted more decisively in the face of the invasion by the US and some of its Middle Eastern and North African allies, the region would not be witnessing such conflagration today, the official asserted.

“Isn’t the time ripe for putting an end to these defeated and pernicious policies?” he asked, stressing that a failure to resolve the regional crises through political means would result in further warfare.

The official concluded his remarks by urging action against the terrorists’ attempts to establish their reign over cyberspace.

The summit started on Tuesday and would last until Thursday, with issues of global information security and fight against international organized crime high on the agenda.

“Representatives of over 90 states arrived at the meeting… Within the conference, over 10 meetings between the representatives of the delegations have been held,” said Evgeny Anoshin, the spokesman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation (SCRF).

Presidential aides, ministers and intelligence officials are among the summit attendees.

It is the eighth such event in Russia. The first security summit was held in the Russian resort of Sochi in 2010 with participants from 44 countries while the 2016 conference gathered representatives from 75 states in the city of Grozny.

SCRF Secretary Nikolai Patrushev hailed the increase in the number of participants over the past years, adding that 16 European states were present in the 2017 conference “despite EU officials not recommending participating, they (intelligence agency representatives) personally took the decision [to come].”

On the sidelines of the summit on Tuesday, Shamkhani, who is heading the Iranian delegation to the Tver summit, held a four-way meeting with Patrushev, Iraq’s National Security Advisor Falih Fayaz and head of Syria’s National Security Bureau Ali Mamlouk.

May 24, 2017 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , | Leave a comment

Here’s why Saudi Arabia and Israel are allies in all but name

By Adam Garrie | The Duran | May 22, 2017

Those who claim that Israel is opposed to Donald Trump’s now openly warm relations with Saudi Arabia are missing the actual point. On the surface, many assume that Israel and Saudi Arabia have poor relations. Neither country has diplomatic relations with one another, one is a self-styled Jewish state while the other is a Wahhabi Sunni monarchy.

But they both have the same regional goals, they both have the same enemies and both are intellectual anachronisms in a 20th century that has seen the fall of multiple monarchies, the end of traditional European colonialism and the fall of segregated regimes in Africa (Apartheid South Africa and UDI Rhodesia for example).

Israel and Saudi Arabia have always been enemies of secular, Arab nationalist states and federations. Whether an Arab state is Nasserist, Ba’athist, socialist, Marxist-Leninist or in the case of Gaddafi’s Libya a practitioner of the post-Nassierist Third Political Theory: Israel and Saudi Arabia have sought to and in large part have succeeded, with western help, at destroy such states.

Unlike Israel’s Apartheid military state and Saudi Arabia’s human rights free monarchy, the aforementioned Arab styles of government are worthy of the word modern. These are countries which had progressive mixed economies, had secular governments and societies, had full constitutional rights for religious and ethnic minorities, they championed women’s rights and engaged in mass literacy programmes and infrastructural projects. In the case of the Syrian Arab Republic, such things still apply.

Such things still have wide appeal not just in the Arab world but universally. The very charter of the UN subtly implies that such goals are the way forward.

Secular Arab governments have therefore not fallen due to their lack of popularity but they have fallen due to political and military aggression from Israel, monetary blackmail and terrorism funded from and by Saudi Arabia and a combination of all of the above from the United States and her European allies. Useful idiots in the west who claim that groups like the obscurantist and terroristic Muslim Brotherhood represent majoritarian public opinion in secular Arab states are simply worse than useful idiots: they are lying, dangerous idiots.

This is why Syria is a country that Israel and Saudi Arabia are both interested in destroying. Both countries have indeed invested time and money into destroying Syria and thus far they have not been successful.

Syria is the last secular Arab Ba’athist state in the world. Unlike in Israel, minorities have full constitutional rights and unlike in Saudi Arabia, all religions are tolerated. In Syria, women can act, speak and dress as they wish.

Syria’s independence has in the past thwarted Israel’s ambition to annex Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and additional parts of Syria itself (Israel still occupies Syria’s Golan Heights). Syria has also been a true ally of the oppressed Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.

Likewise, Syria has hurt Saudi Arabia and fellow backward Gulf state Qatar’s ambitions to expand their petro-empires. Qatar remains desirous to construct a pipeline running through Syria, something Qatar wants done on its terms and its terms alone.

Furthermore, since Saudi Arabia has little to offer the world in terms of culture, Saudi attempts to control and colonise their more educated and worldly Levantine Arabs is done through a combination of bribery and through the use of Salafist terrorist proxies such as ISIS and al-Qaeda.

There is also a psychological element to the mutual warfare which Saudi Arabia and Israel have waged on secular states like Syria.

So long as Syria exists, Saudi Arabia cannot say that there is no alternative to its backward style of government in the Arab world. Of course, others like Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt are secular states (Iraq less so now than at any time since independence), but these states have been wholly compromised through war and in the case of Egypt through political malaise.

Syria remains strongly independent and refuses to surrender its values.

Both countries also seek to destroy Iran. Iran unlike Saudi Arabia and Israel, practices an ethical foreign policy. Far from wanting to export its Islamic Revolution, Iran has been a staunch ally to secular Syria and has been at the forefront of the fight against Salafist terrorism like ISIS and al-Qaeda.

Iran has also taken a principled stance on Palestine, whilst most Arab states with the exception of Syria, have long ago given up on the Palestinian cause.

Israel and Saudi Arabia have superficial differences in foreign policy, but their main goals are exactly the same. Both seek to retard the progress of the Arab world and to taint Islam as something it is not.

Saudi Arabia and Israel both want non-Muslims to think of Islam as something representing bombs, female enslavement, physical mutilation and barbarity. Syria has shown the world that real Islam looks a lot like Christianity and frankly a lot more like Christianity than atheistic Europe does in 2017.

Saudi Arabia and Israel are allies in the material and psychological war against secular, modern Arab countries. It is a war which the United States has been fighting on behalf of Riyadh and Tel Aviv for decades.

May 22, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Turkey steps up training militants in northern Syria: Report

Press TV – May 20, 2017

Turkey has reportedly resumed an extensive campaign aimed at training the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants in northern Syria, purportedly to fight Kurdish forces and Daesh Takfiri terrorists.

Turkish special forces are training more FSA troops in using mortars, rocket launchers and machine guns, Anadolu news agency reported.

“It is no longer the old FSA in the field but a new FSA being born. These FSA members in training will show their difference in possible future operations,” the report quoted an unidentified military official as saying.

The report comes after Turkey declared in March an end to the first phase of its so-called military operation along with the FSA against Daesh and People’s Protection Units (YPG) Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the country would retaliate through a cross-border operation if the YPG poses a security threat.

Turkey deems the YPG a terror organization and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been engaged in a three-decade-long insurgency against Ankara in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast.

On Friday, Anadolu cited security sources as saying that the Turkish military had stepped up presence along its southern border and dispatched armored military vehicles and munitions to the area to respond to potential attacks by the YPG and PKK.

The Turkish military units and intelligence are currently monitoring Kurdish-controlled Afrin, Tel Abyad and Qamishli in northern Syria and the Iraqi border.

Since July 2015, Turkish air force has been carrying out operations against the PKK positions in the country’s troubled southeastern border region as well as in northern Iraq and neighboring Syria.

In early December 2015, Turkey deployed a contingent of its troops to the Bashiqa military camp north of Mosul, claiming that the move had been earlier coordinated with Iraqi officials. Baghdad swiftly denied the claim and ever since has called on Ankara to immediately withdraw its forces from the camp. Turkey, however, has so far refused to pull out its forces from the Iraqi soil.

In August 2016, Turkey also began a major military intervention in Syria, sending tanks and warplanes across the border, claiming that its military campaign was aimed at pushing Daesh from Turkey’s border with Syria and stopping the advance of Kurdish forces. Damascus denounces the operation as a breach of its sovereignty.

Ankara in late March announced the end of its military operations in Syria, but did not rule out the possibility of yet another military intervention in war-torn Syria.

May 20, 2017 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism, War Crimes | , , , | Leave a comment

Preparing for War on Hizbullah

By Abdel Bari Atwan  | Raialyoum | May 20, 2017

The US-led war on the Islamic Sate group under the banner of fighting terrorism may be viewed by many, especially by Arab members of the coalition that is waging it, as legitimate. But in our view it increasingly looks like a cover or smokescreen aimed at paving the way, or bestowing legitimacy on, a different war: one aimed at eliminating resistance to Israel in the region, and specifically the Lebanese Hizbullah movement.

The US war for Kuwait in 1991 was fought for the same purpose. A trap was set, after careful planning and precise distribution of roles, for Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. Its aim was to drag him into Kuwait to provide a pretext for destroying Iraq, aborting its scientific progress and military ascendancy and undermining its regional role. It is no exaggeration to say that the proxy war on Syria war has a similar objective – not only to destroy and fragment Syria as an adversary of Israel, but to lure a reluctant Hizbullah into the conflict and thus diminish its enormous popularity and the place it gained in hearts of tens or hundreds of millions of Arabs after its two great victories against Israel: First, when it succeeded in liberating southern Lebanon from Israeli occupation in 2000 after years of persistent resistance, and again in July 2006 when it also fought valiantly and stood fast in epic resistance to an Israeli onslaught that sought to annihilate it.

Most of the regional moves currently being made by the US — including Donald Trump’s upcoming visit to Riyadh and the Eager Lion military exercises in Jordan – have one ultimate objective: to declare all-out war on Hizbullah. This includes drying up its financial resources and criminalizing the organization, in the same way Saddam Hussein was criminalized and the Palestinian resistance movement prior to that: first during the days of the PLO and its factions, and then with the rise of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups that continue to fight Israel.

The West has a variety of problems with Iran, and the country’s nuclear ambitions are one of the most prominent. But it is possible to live with, and even contain, these ambitions by various means. However, Iran’s unforgivable sin in the West’s eyes was to support Hizbullah in Lebanon and transform it into a formidable military force that poses a real deterrent and threat to Israel at a time when the Arab states were surrendering to it. Many have stopped referring to it as the enemy and instead begun building bridges of cooperation and normalization with it and treating it as a strategic regional ally.

Hizbullah crossed all American and Israeli red lines by developing a vast missile capability (100,000 missiles according to some estimates) along with fighting skills that most of the region’s armies — including the Israeli army — lack, combining attributes of conventional armies with expertise in guerrilla warfare. Moreover, four years of fighting in Syria has further strengthened, developed, and modernized these skills.

There have been reports in recent days of an unpublicized closed-door meeting in Washington involving a number of Gulf and Arab states aimed at agreeing a strategy for confronting Hizbullah in the coming period. Participants included Saudi Arabia and Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE. This was intended to prepare for the two multilateral summits (with Arab/Muslim leaders and Gulf rulers respectively) that Trump will attend in Riyadh.

Reports from this meeting indicate that the joint Western-Arab plan for confronting Hizbullah include imposing financial sanctions on the organization’s members, supporters and sympathizers around the world, especially Lebanese expatriates in Africa and Europe who provide financial support for the party or institutions affiliated or close to it. This will involve measures to monitor money transfers and dry up all the party’s external funding sources in order to create difficulties for its leadership in financing its political and military structures and its extensive social institutions and activities.

The war on the hardline jihadi groups such as the Nusra Front and IS is drawing towards a close. Nusra is besieged in Idlib, rural Damascus and a few enclaves in rural Aleppo. The recent Astana agreement delegated the task of liquidating it to the so-called moderate Syrian opposition factions backed by the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. As for IS, it has lost most of Mosul, and the war to liberate al-Raqqa by the US-backed Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is now imminent, and will begin as soon as sufficient supplies of American tanks, armoured vehicles and missiles have been delivered to these forces.

In other words, the destruction of the ‘Islamist’ groups that are internationally designated as terrorist organizations will open the door wide to the more important war on Hizbullah, not only in Syria but in Lebanon too. It is to begin with an economic war and culminate in a military offensive — as, indeed, the wars on Iraq did.

Could this scenario which is being implemented in stages against Hizbullah (and by extension Iran) achieve the same success it did against Iraq – and prior to that against the Palestinian presence in Lebanon, which was ended with the 1982 Israeli invasion? It is hard to give a categorical answer to this hypothetical question. What can be said, however, is that circumstances have changed, and Israel has changed as well. Hizbullah is the pivot of a regional and confessional structure, and has the open and total support of Iran, and of Iraq to a lesser degree. Any war against it will not be easy. If the 1991 scenario succeeded in Iraq, that was due above all to Arab collusion and betrayal, as well as the demise of the Soviet Union which left the US as the world’s unchallenged hegemon.

The wars currently unfolding in the region and the conspiracies being hatched are all for the sake of enhancing Israel’s security and stability and maintaining its military power and supremacy. It is ironic that this is happening around the time of the centenary of the infamous Balfour Declaration and Sykes-Picot agreements. For the task now being undertaken is aimed at consolidating the Zionist presence in Palestine and the region envisaged in that Declaration, while dismembering the states that emerged from the womb of those agreements.

May 20, 2017 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel, Zionism | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments