At least 126 people, including 68 children, were killed and dozens of others sustained injuries on bus attack which happened this last Saturday.
Little media attention has been given to the horrific attack which saw a bomber blow up an explosive-laden car, ripping through multiple buses carrying evacuees from Kefraya and Foua villages in Idlib, as they were waiting in al-Rashidin district to enter the city of Aleppo.
CNN reporter Nick Patton Walsh covered the attack, referring to the massive car bombing as a “hiccup”.
68 “beautiful babies” were murdered in this ISIS-Al Qaeda attack.
US President Trump has yet to issue a statement or call for a Tomahawk missile strike against the “moderate rebels”.
US/EU sanctions against ISIS-Al Qaeda sponsors Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have yet to be enforced.
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.”
Washington failed to attend the latest international conference hosted by Moscow, where 11 nations discussed ways of bringing peace to Afghanistan. The US branded it a “unilateral Russian attempt to assert influence in the region.”
Friday’s meeting is the latest in a series of similar events in the Russian capital that have grown from trilateral consultations between Russia, China, and Pakistan held in December of last year into talks involving the majority of the Afghan region’s powers. The latest included Russia, China, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. An invitation was sent to Kabul’s patron, America, but was rejected.
“I think just to end it, we just felt that these talks – it was unclear to us what the purpose was,” US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Tuesday, in explaining the US’ absence.
“It seemed to be a unilateral Russian attempt to assert influence in the region that we felt wasn’t constructive at this time,” he noted.
Moscow responded by saying it “could not comprehend” the US’ reason for snubbing the gathering.
Participants in the event reiterated their support for a peaceful transition in Afghanistan, while calling for Kabul to be supported in moving in that direction.
“A call has been sent to the Taliban movement to abandon its line for a military solution of the Afghan conflict in favor of direct talks with the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on the issue of national reconciliation,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement after the conference.
The statement added that more consultations in this format will follow, while noting that Moscow has offered to host them again.
Moscow and China have separately been trying to persuade the Taliban to focus less on Kabul and more on the more imminent threat – the advances of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group.
Washington has criticized such initiatives, citing the Taliban’s record of waging guerilla warfare against the Afghan government, while downplaying the threat posed by IS in Afghanistan. The US military reported in February that the joint efforts of Afghan troops and US-led international forces have reduced IS’ presence in the country to less than 1,000 fighters, according to Voice of America.
According to Russia’s estimate, the jihadist group has at least 3,500 fighters in Afghanistan, which Moscow says Kabul and its allies are not doing enough to eradicate.
The conference in Moscow comes a day after the US dropped its most powerful conventional bomb on a suspected IS hideout in Afghanistan, marking the first time the weapon has been used in combat. It was not immediately clear whether this signified a shift in Washington’s view of the threat posed by IS affiliates in Afghanistan.
The use of chemical weapons in Sheikhun, in the Idlib province of Syria on 4th April 2017 was a heinous act. The world has rightly condemned it.
Because it was so cruel and callous, it is vital that the truth about the attack is established as soon as possible. The United States of America and a number of its allies are certain that the attack was planned and executed by the Syrian government. 86 people, including 27 children, were killed in the carnage. The US Ambassador to the UN has shown some heart-rending images of some of the children who died from the chemical gas attack.
The Syrian authorities have denied categorically that they were responsible for the tragedy. They claim that a warehouse containing toxic materials may have been hit in the course of the Syrian army’s operations in the area thus releasing lethal gas and causing so many deaths.
Given these conflicting accounts, an independent international inquiry should be conducted to determine what really happened on the 4th of April. The members of the panel should comprise credible experts who are not citizens of any of the five permanent member states of the UN Security Council. The UN Secretary-General should appoint the panel.
It is only after the panel’s findings are made public that action should be taken under the provisions of the UN Charter. By firing a barrage of cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase on the 7th of April, the US has not only violated international law but has also committed aggression against a sovereign state. The US’s unilateral action has worsened the conflict in Syria.
Establishing the truth about the chemical gas episode is far more important than flexing one’s military muscle. To start with, how could the Syrian army have deployed chemical weapons when a UN affiliated body, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed in June 2014 that Syria had complied with a Security Council resolution to destroy its entire stockpile of chemical weapons ?
Besides, it defies logic that the Syrian government that has regained control over almost all the major cities in the country and is clearly winning the war against the militants who are being backed by regional and Western actors should deliberately choose to gas innocent children — an action which it knows would provoke the wrath of the whole world.
A brief survey of gas attacks in Syria in the last five years would convince us that it just does not make sense for the government to consciously plan the 4th April episode. Take the infamous Ghouta sarin gas attack of August 2013. The centres of power in the West and in West Asia North Africa (WANA) opposed to Bashar al-Assad through their media channels immediately labelled the Syrian authorities as the culprit and crucified them. But the highly respected American investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, through meticulous analysis revealed that the attack was actually the work of a militant group carried out with the connivance of elements in the Turkish power structure.
The Houla massacre of 25 May 2012 was another example of a gas attack that finger-pointed the Bashar government. A picture of a large number of dead children “wrapped in white shrouds with a child jumping over one of them” was offered as proof of Bashar’s brutality. The picture was actually from the war in Iraq in 2003. The photographer himself, Marco Di Lauro, came out in the open to expose the fabrication. In fact according to the German newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), the massacre was “committed by anti-Assad Sunni militants, and the bulk of the victims were members of the Alawi and Shia minorities, which have been largely supportive of Assad.” There was also the case of militants gathering Christian and Alawi hostages in a building in the Khalidya neighbourhood in Homs, blowing it up with dynamite and then putting the blame upon the Syrian army. Numerous other instances of militants committing terrible atrocities but giving the impression that the Syrian army or its allies — Iranian revolutionary guards or Hezbollah fighters or Russian soldiers — were responsible have been documented by journalists and commentators.
Of all the lies and deceptions of this sort in recent memory the most outrageous would the Anglo-American allegation about Saddam Hussein’s “Weapons of Mass Destruction” which was the fig-leaf used to camouflage their invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. The Bolivian Ambassador to the UN, Sacha Llorenti, reminded the Security Council of this monstrous lie at its meeting on the 7th of April and warned the world that “After this (Iraqi) invasion there were 1 million deaths and it launched a series of atrocities in that region. Could we talk about ISIS if that invasion had not taken place? Could we be talking about the series of horrendous attacks in various parts of the world had that invasion, this illegal invasion not taken place?”
Lies, manipulation of facts and false-flag operations all serve an overriding goal which is to protect and perpetuate US hegemonic power and the interests of its allies. In Iraq and Syria it is only too obvious that the aim is to secure hegemony through regime-change. Indeed, the US elite, at the behest of Israel, have been seeking to oust Bashar al-Assad for the good part of the last 15 years. For different reasons, the rulers of London and Paris, and those at the helm in Riyadh, Doha and Ankara also want to get rid of Bashar. A convergence of motives explains why these elites have been funding, training, arming and channeling intelligence to militants in Syria from various parts of the world who have sometimes resorted to the most barbaric methods in pursuit of their zealous drive to seize power.
There is perhaps yet another reason — apart from regime change — why some vested interests in Washington have decided to exploit the 4th April gas attack. These interests in the military, the intelligence community, the media, think-tanks, within lobbies and among legislators, are opposed to any rapprochement between Washington and Moscow. Perpetuating an adversarial relationship between the two is integral to their agenda of ensuring that the US remains the world’s sole dominant power. They sense that the new US President, Donald Trump, may try to build a bridge to Russia’s Vladimir Putin which is why they are manipulating the issue of the latter’s alleged attempt to influence the recent US Presidential Election. The suspicion and distrust engendered by this issue has now been aggravated by the US missile attack.
US-Russia ties are not the only issue adversely impacted by the US’s 7th April bombardment. If the US escalates its military involvement, it will have far-reaching consequences for the on-going conflict in Syria, politics in WANA and global peace in general.
The reverberations of the US missile attack in Syria on Thursday are inexorably felt in the geopolitical arena. A series of developments through the weekend signals that the Syrian conflict is entering a new phase. The most consequential development was a phone conversation Sunday afternoon between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani, at the latter’s initiative, to discuss the emergent situation in Syria and in the region.
Earlier in the day, Rouhani also had spoken with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to assure him of full Iranian support. On a parallel track, the Iranian and Syrian military chiefs also confabulated on Sunday. Prior to that on Saturday, Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri and the Russian Chief of General Staff General Valeri Gerasimov discussed the Syrian situation. They vowed to continue their military cooperation in support of Assad “until the total defeat of the terrorists and those that support them” (according to the Iranian news agency.)
Again, on Saturday the chiefs of the Iranian and Russian national security councils, Admiral Ali Shamkhai and Nikolai Patrushev held a phone conversation to discuss Syria. Shamkhani hinted at intelligence available with Tehran that the chemical attack in Idlib on April 4 was executed “by a third party in order to create a pretext for carrying out a (US) military attack on Syria.”
Broadly, Moscow and Tehran have voiced identical demands that an independent investigation must be conducted on the chemical attack in Idlib to establish the culpability. Both have strongly condemned the US missile attack as an act of “aggression” and a violation of the UN Charter and international law.
The text of today’s Kremlin statement is reproduced below:
- On the initiative of the Iranian party a phone conversation between Vladimir Putin and President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Hassan Rouhani was held. … [The presidents] exchanged their views of the situation in Syria.
- Both parties pointed out the inadmissibility of US aggressive actions against the sovereign state in violation of the international law. Putin and Rouhani called for holding an objective, impartial investigation of all circumstances of the incident involving chemical weapons in the Syrian province of Idlib on April 4.
- Particular importance was paid to the key aspects of the bilateral cooperation in the sphere of counterterrorism, a readiness to deepen cooperation in order to ensure stability in the Middle East was expressed.
- The Leaders also noted the importance to continue close cooperation on political and diplomatic settlement of the armed conflict in Syria.
The statement hints at an intensification of the Russian-Iranian military operations in Syria. The intention could be to accelerate the liberation of areas still under the control of ISIS and Al-Qaeda affiliates. Importantly, Idlib province bordering Turkey is one such priority area. The extremist groups ensconced in Idlib still enjoy the backing of Turkey, and some of them used to be the CIA’s proxy groups.
Secondly, it is more than likely that discussions have taken place as to how to counter any future US attacks in Syria. Iranian media linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps reported today on a statement by the so-called Syria-Iran-Russia Joint Operations Room, which coordinates the military strategies in Syria. The statement warned that any future US aggression will be “given a lethal response”. It said, “We will respond to any aggression powerfully, as Russia and Iran would never allow the US to dominate the world.”
Significantly, the latest Iranian statements have referred to strategic cooperation among Iran, Syria, Russia and the “resistance front”. Today’s Kremlin statement pointedly touched on a mutual Russian-Iranian “readiness to deepen cooperation in order to ensure stability in the Middle East.” Taken together, Russian-Iranian military cooperation in Syria may assume new dimensions as a coordinated regional strategy.
Islamic State militants have managed to steal chemical weapons from underground storage facilities in Libya that were not properly guarded and the gas has already been used, a cousin of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi told RT Arabic in an exclusive interview.
“ISIS has managed to find some of the secret underground storage facilities, still holding chemical weapons, hidden in the desert. Unfortunately, they weren’t properly guarded,” said Ahmed Gaddafi Al-Dam, a cousin of Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader who was killed in 2011.
Al-Dam, the stolen gas was then trafficked to the northern part of the country and sold.
“There are two known cases of this chemical agent being stolen. I know this from my sources in Tripoli. In the first case, seven drums of sarin were stolen, and in the second, I think it was five.”
And the destructive chemicals have already been used, said Ahmed Gaddafi Al-Dam, who formerly was one of Gaddafi’s most trusted security chiefs. He recalled that during the recent clashes near the Al-Quds Mosque in Tripoli, security forces discovered a vehicle loaded with sarin.
“Unfortunately, those who had driven this vehicle into the city didn’t understand the dangers of this nerve agent, and how risky it was to bring it into an urban area, let alone ever use it. I don’t want to spread panic, but that’s the reality. And the world knows this very well,” he said.
Islamic State (IS, previously ISIS/ISIL) has already used chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria, according to numerous reports.
Earlier this month, Eren Erdem, a member of Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), told RT that IS terrorists in Syria had received all the necessary materials to produce deadly sarin gas via Turkey.
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.
A report of Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), especially prepared for the US Congress and the Trump administration, finds what should be called a magnanimous failure of the US in achieving any of its major objectives in Afghanistan even after spending almost 16 years in the country. Ironic though it may sound, this report, along with its list of grave threats that the US needs to tackle, endorses the war as, what Trump himself has called, totally “disastrous” for the US. While the actual intention behind the preparation of this report seems to be to impress upon the president and the Congress to sanction more funds, commit more US troops and continue the rehabilitation programme (read: Trump has vowed to end the programme), it ends up enlisting the US’ multiple failures in Afghanistan, ranging from eliminating the Taliban completely to restoring even a semblance of peace and establishing a strong security force in the war torn country. Hence, the question: will commitment of more resources (funds and troops) to Afghanistan make any difference, especially when the proposed increase is nothing compared to what the US had committed and continued to utilize for years after it invaded Afghanistan in 2001?
It is worth recalling that since 2001, around 2250 US military personnel have died and over 20,000 wounded in Afghanistan and the war is not over—yet. Apart from it, as the report notes, the US has spent more money in Afghanistan than it collectively spent to reconstruct the whole Europe after the Second World War, marking this the “largest expenditure to rebuild a single country in our (US) nation’s history.” Given the scale of the loss, it cannot be gainsaid that it is also the greatest failure the US has suffered ever since. And as the report highlights, “after 15 years the task is incomplete.”
Afghanistan, for the US, remains a “high risk” territory—something that warrants, the US policy makers think, a long-term military presence. Despite spending a whopping US$70 billion on establishing Afghan security forces—almost half of the reconstruction budget going to this particular sector of national reconstruction— the report finds that Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) remain acutely incapable of tackling the war on their own.
While the report places the onus of responsibility on Afghan forces for ceding territory to the Taliban, the fact remains that the US forces have not left the country either and remain militarily engaged.
According to the US-Afghanistan Bi-Lateral Security Agreement (BSA), the very purpose of retaining a significant strength of US troops and military personnel is to “enhance the ability of Afghanistan to deter internal and external threats against its sovereignty.”
However, despite the fact that two years have passed since the agreement was signed, no major progress has been seen in terms of the Afghan forces’ ability to recover territory from the Taliban. On the contrary, as the SIGAR report notes, “approximately 63.4% of the country’s districts are under Afghan government control or influence as of August 28, 2016, a decrease from the 70.5% reported as of January 29, 2016.”
What this indicates is that the US has been unable to achieve, so far, its publicly stated objectives. According to the SIGAR report, the other “high risk” areas include corruption, sustainability, on-budget support, counter-narcotics, contract management, oversight, strategy and planning.
Curiously enough, SIGAR does not mention the rising threat of the Islamic State in Afghanistan and the threat it is posing to the regions surrounding this country. The regions surrounding Afghanistan include Central Asia, South Asia and China.
Were the Islamic State to be allowed, by not taking action against it, to spread in Afghanistan and be able to set foothold in this region, it will spread utter devastation—something that will directly serve the US interest against Russia and China. Not only will it jeopardize China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ project but will also cause a manifold increase in the threats of ISIS finding support in China’s Xinjiang province and in Central Asia states i.e., Russia’s “under belly.”
No wonder, the US doesn’t see ISIS as a “real threat” to their interests in Afghanistan because it is not, as yet, posing any direct threat. For the US, the primary threat remains the Taliban and the imperative of silencing their movement remains the primary objective.
It is for this reason that both China and Russia have found a justifiable reason in establishing contacts both with the Afghan government and the Taliban in order to prevent ISIS from gaining foothold in Afghanistan. While China has already started to conduct counter-terror operations in co-operation with Kabul, Russia is equally setting itself up to lead the peace process by holding a global peace conference on Afghanistan in Moscow.
What are Trump’s options for an un-winnable war?
Given the dark scenario depicted in the report, it seems that the US military is deeply interested in raising troop levels in Afghanistan. But the question is: will sending more troops do any good when 16 years of war have led only to deterioration? What it will do is intensify the war with the Taliban and provide ISIS a ready-made scenario to gain strength.
It is obvious that the US cannot win the war against the Taliban. As a matter of fact, the question of actually winning the war has lost whatever significance it previously had. Therefore, the new question that must be raised and duly addressed is how to prevent Afghanistan from becoming another Levant?
It is again self-evident that ISIS doesn’t figure as a threat in the US officials’ calculation. Therefore, China and Russia must step up their efforts and help negotiate a peace settlement with the Taliban. Pakistan’s role is crucial in this regard and fortunately enough, both Russia and China are on good terms with Afghanistan’s immediate and most important neighbour.
Therefore, the best option for the US/the Trump administration is to engage with countries that can actually pave the way for settlement. On the contrary, were the US to continue to walk the lonely path in Afghanistan, it will continue to progressively lose space and momentum to China-Pakistan-Russia nexus just as it lost space and advantage in Syria after Russia started its own military campaign in September 2015. As such, with Russia and China willing to facilitate a peace settlement, the US needs to tap into this opportunity and turn the “disastrous war” into a meaningful settlement.
Salman Rafi Sheikh is a research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs.
The secretary general of Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, says Israel seeks an end to Russia’s military campaign against the ISIS terrorist group in Syria to avert the Tel Aviv regime’s collapse.
Nasrallah said on Saturday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had recently met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to express his deep concern over the likely collapse of ISIS in Syria since such a development would mark a great triumph for the resistance front in the Middle East region.
The Hezbollah chief added that the defeat of the ISIS Takfiri group in Syria would be tantamount to the fall of Netanyahu himself.
Russia launched a military campaign against the terrorist groups in Syria in late September 2015 at the official request of the Damascus government.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Nasrallah said that Western powers were drawing on Takfiri terrorists in order to carry out their schemes in conflict-ridden Syria.
“I have repeatedly called on Syria militants not to put trust in [the] West and implement their plots in Syria, because the US and its allies are only using them as cannon fodder and will abandon [them] as soon as they are defeated,” he said.
He added, “I am telling militants fighting within the ranks of the enemies that you are only serving Israel, and shedding the blood of innocent people.”
The Hezbollah leader noted that the days of ISIS, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as the al-Nusra Front, and other terrorist groups fighting to topple the Damascus government are numbered as Syrian army forces continue to achieve victories across the country.
Even those Arab and Western countries that once supported these terror outfits are now fighting them, Nasrallah pointed out.
The Hezbollah chief argued that all the Arab money spent to fan the flames of militancy in Syria over the past six years could have been used to eradicate poverty and illiteracy in the Arab world, feed starving Somalis, and accommodate homeless Palestinians.
Nasrallah said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had recently visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to express his deep concern over the likely collapse of Daesh in Syria since such a development would mark a great triumph for the resistance front in the Middle East region.
Turkey’s presence in Syria is not welcome, not legal and not moral.
Ali Haidar, Syria’s Minister for National Reconciliation, recently talked to Sputnik where he condemned Turkey’s continued illegal presence in Syria.
With some many world-powers complicit in looking the other way at Turkey’s illegal war on Syria.
Here are five reasons that Turkey must leave.
- International Law
The first and foremost reason that Turkey should not be in Syria is that legally, Turkey cannot be in Syria. The Syrian Arab Republic is a sovereign state and Turkish presence is not welcomed by the Syrian government nor does Turkey have any sanction for their invasion by the United Nations.
Ali Haidar said quite clearly,
“Our stance on the presence of Turkish military forces has not changed. This is the violation of the sovereignty and occupation of Syria”.
As allies, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah forces have been welcomed to coordinate their war on terror with Damascus. This is not true of Turkey and their fellow NATO member states.
- Bad Intentions
Where Syria’s actual allies are helping to bring stability to a country besieged by a plethora of terrorist groups, whose names and local allegiances constant shift, Turkey has had two goals in Syria, neither of which are productive, let alone moral.
Turkey first of all wanted to push for illegal regime change in Damascus, something which the Turks now quietly concede is an impossibility.
The second reason Turkey is involved is to weaken the position of Kurdish YPG forces in Syria. Turkey wants to create an effective buffer zone in both Iraq and Syria between Kurdish positions in the two Arab states and Kurdish regions of Turkey. This is why both the Syrian government and Syrian Kurds are uniquely united in condemning Turkey’s presence in the country.
- Working With Jihadists
Because there isn’t political will among ordinary Turkish citizens for a mass invasion, Turkey is in great part relying on rag-tag jihadists who when fighting for Turkey call themselves the Free Syrian Army, a name first assigned to a group of mainly US funded marauders in 2011. The original group disappeared shortly after its creation.
But the current FSA is more or less a byword for jihadists loyal to and funded by Turkey. Whether standing under an Al-Sura, ISIS or FSA flag, there is little difference in the intention, ideology or methods of these vile groups.
- Undermining Arab Independence
President Erdogan is well known to have Ottoman ambitions. This has led him to threaten not only Greece and Cyprus but also the Arab world which the Ottoman Sultan once ruled. Arabs fought long and hard to establishment their independence in the 20th century. The long fight was more recently against European powers, but prior to that it was a struggle against Ottoman rule.
To add insult to injury, Turkey is now accusing Iran of what Turkey is doing, namely trying to gain a foothold in the Arab world. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused Iran of trying to spread Shi’a Islam to Syria and Iraq, echoing the lie about a ‘Shi’a Crescent’.
Meanwhile President Erdogan accused Iran of trying to spread Persian Nationalism in the Arab world.
Although I have been critical of Iran’s role in Iraq, a role made possible only through the illegal US-UK invasion, in Syria, Iran has exercised restraint. Iran respects for Syria’s government and Syria’s secular way of life. The same cannot be said of Ankara.
By contrast, it is Turkey who is arming radical Sunni groups who put the lives of Shi’a Muslims, moderate Sunni Muslims and Christians in peril. It is Turkey’s President who shouts about restoring Ottoman provinces. No such words nor indications of direct actions come out of Tehran.
- Turkey’s Domestic Problems
With Erdogan facing problems on the home front, he really cannot afford his foreign adventures in Syria, not least because ISIS has been doing a strangely good job at keeping Turkish forces and their unreliable terrorist FSA at bay, although Turkey’s current (if not temporary) victory in Al-Bab may give Erdogan some buoyancy.
Between Gulenists, ISIS and Al-Qaeda sympathisers in Turkey, resurgent Kurdish PKK forces and Kemalists distraught by Erdogan’s increasing disregard for the traditions of modern Turkey, he simply cannot afford the giant distraction that his Syrian adventure has become. He ought to quit. Better late than never.
Just over a week into the Trump Administration, the President issued an Executive Order giving Defense Secretary James Mattis 30 days to come up with a plan to defeat ISIS. According to the Order, the plan should make recommendations on military actions, diplomatic actions, partners, strategies, and how to pay for the operation.
As we approach the president’s deadline it looks like the military is going to present Trump with a plan to do a whole lot more of what we’ve been doing and somehow expect different results. Proving the old saying that when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail, we are hearing increasing reports that the military will recommend sending thousands of US troops into Syria and Iraq.
This would be a significant escalation in both countries, as currently there are about 5,000 US troops still fighting our 13-year war in Iraq, and some 500 special forces soldiers operating in Syria.
The current Syria ceasefire, brokered without US involvement at the end of 2016, is producing positive results and the opposing groups are talking with each other under Russian and Iranian sponsorship. Does anyone think sending thousands of US troops into a situation that is already being resolved without us is a good idea?
In language reminiscent of his plans to build a wall on the Mexican border, the president told a political rally in Florida over the weekend that he was going to set up “safe zones” in Syria and would make the Gulf States pay for them. There are several problems with this plan.
First, any “safe zone” set up inside Syria, especially if protected by US troops, would amount to a massive US invasion of the country unless the Assad government approves them. Does President Trump want to begin his presidency with an illegal invasion of a sovereign country?
Second, there is the little problem of the Russians, who are partners with the Assad government in its efforts to rid the country of ISIS and al-Qaeda. ISIS is already losing territory on a daily basis. Is President Trump willing to risk a military escalation with Russia to protect armed regime-change forces in Syria?
Third, the Gulf States are the major backers of al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria – as the president’s own recently-resigned National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, revealed in a 2015 interview. Unless these safe zones are being set up to keep al-Qaeda and ISIS safe, it doesn’t make any sense to involve the Gulf States.
Many will say we should not be surprised at these latest moves. As a candidate, Trump vowed to defeat ISIS once and for all. However, does anyone really believe that continuing the same strategy we have followed for the past 16 years will produce different results this time? If what you are hammering is not a nail, will hammering it harder get it nailed in?
Washington cannot handle the truth: solving the ISIS problem must involve a whole lot less US activity in the Middle East, not a whole lot more. Until that is understood, we will continue to waste trillions of dollars and untold lives in a losing endeavor.
Part 1: The Anti-Anti-War-Left
One could argue that for any serious student of the Middle East, using a range of sources, the approved narrative on the Syrian conflict should have been suspect from the outset: the precedents of Iraq and Libya and the accompanying lies, the well-reported lack of interest in revolution on the part of the Syrian people, the quickly developing violence in contrast with the ready accommodations of the government in terms of reform and release of political prisoners, the dominant role of brutal sectarian gangs in a traditionally tolerant and pluralist society. Those trying to find the truth of the Syrian war, however, found themselves opposed from an unexpected quarter.
There is a large body of commentators in the West who define themselves as ‘left’, ‘progressive’ and ‘anti-imperialist’ insofar as they condemn Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. Their claimed support for the Palestinians is offset by virulently opposing anything that threatens Israel’s interests in other areas, such as investigation into the role of Mossad’s activities outside of Israel. Israel’s interests are likewise to the fore when it comes to drastic change in Syria (seen by Hillary Clinton as essential to Israel’s interests as far back as 2006) – the ‘soft Zionists’ have been promoting the externally created revolution in Syria from the outset.
Sharing most of these characteristics are a group of people who espouse a ‘third way’ whereby ostensible anti-imperialists criticise their governments’ interventionist policies but at the same time have promoted the revolution and been determined opponents of the Syrian government. While in theory they oppose external intervention, they at the same time facilitate such intervention by peddling propaganda to that end.
For five years, people like Max Blumenthal, Ben Norton and Rania Khalek have actively promoted forced regime change in Syria, insisting on the validity of the popular revolution, characterising the Syrian president as a butcher, and alternately vilifying and patronising those who were unconvinced by the NATO narrative.
At the same time there has been no attempt by proponents of the Syrian war to engage with the anti-war activists who have been carrying out and sharing research on the conflict – instead they have contented themselves with unfounded slurs on the intellect and integrity of supporters of Syria.
However, ripples have been going through social media in recent months as these seemingly diehard opponents to the Syrian government have moved to taking a more nuanced view of the conflict. This was quickly picked up by eagle-eyed users of twitter who have been following the war on Syria for years…
In order to consider the significance and extent of this shift in perspective, it is worth looking back at the views espoused by the thirdwayers over the years
The popular revolution
Long after the violent, sectarian and fundamentally un-Syrian nature of the uprising was revealed along with its external impetus, diehards were still promoting the idea of a popular revolution, with a sentimental attachment to the Free Syrian Army well after its use-by date. While atrocity stories to the disfavour of the ‘Assad thugs’ (Syrian Arab Army) were quickly shared, those which show the ‘revolutionaries’ in an unfavourable light were ignored or speedily forgotten: By 2012 there was abundant proof of FSA atrocities, including cannibalism, decapitation and sectarian massacres, but this did not stop Blumenthal tweeting approvingly in August ‘Protest in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights in support of the #Syrian revolution’.
Thus in August 2014, when most people were discarding the fiction of Syria’s moderate rebels, Ben Norton still had a rosy view of the ‘democratic’ revolutionaries: a spate of tweets in their favour on August 18 included such optimistic claims as, ‘Syrian revolutionaries have already liberated cities, and they ran them somewhat democratically’, and on 22 September, ‘Majority of the FSA consists of average Syrians & former SAA members who refused to slaughter civilians & defected’.
As late as February 2015 Ben Norton complained:
Blame Assad for brutally destroying the progressive and secular resistance against his murderous fascist regime […] not Syrians for standing up to bravely fight for not just food, justice, and dignity, but for their very lives.
In 2014 Khalek interviewed Molly Crabapple, artist, writer and fervent supporter of the ‘Syrian revolution’. Both Khalek and Crabapple assume a non-violent inception to the Syrian conflict, ruthlessly crushed by government forces.
Khalek: […] You addressed the fact that there was a segment of the anti-war left that still till now is very dismissive of the Syrian uprising and in some cases excuses Assad for the horrific crimes he’s committing and you got attacked for pointing this out.
Crabapple: […] Many people I deeply respect are anti-intervention for good reasons. Other ones were pro certain sorts of intervention. But I think what is absolutely wrong is to pretend the Syrian revolution didn’t exist, to pretend that these activists weren’t amazing people …
The ‘evil Assad’
Attacking any movement by demonising its leader is a tried and true tactic where there is no legitimate means to an end – one only needs to look at the treatment meted out to Alex Salmond who, in the run-up to the Scottish referendum, was variously compared to Hitler, Mugabe, Nero and Genghis Khan. Likewise vilification of Bashar al Assad has been a major plank of regime change advocates. For more than five years the anti-Syria movement has relentlessly vilified the Syrian president with an incontinent flow of accusations, making full use of language favoured by the most hard-line interventionists: Assad ‘the butcher’, ‘the brutal tyrant’ has been accused of deliberately conducting a reign of terror, of bombing, starving, raping, gassing his own people, deliberately targeting hospitals, blood-banks, schools, bakeries, children and even kittens.
The thirdwayers have been amongst the most determined proponents of the evil Assad narrative: ‘Assad slaughter continues’ BN8/8/14; Assad’s ‘brutal tyranny’ MB 4/10/11; ‘Assad slaughter’ MB22/2/13; ‘Assad’s atrocities’ MB 14/9/13; ‘Assad’s reign of terror’ MB 16/9/14; ‘Assad family’s ongoing legacy of criminal fascism’ MB 18/10/14; ‘Assad the butcher’ RK 15/8/14 ‘Assad’s butchery’ RK 29/7/14; Assad is a mass murdering criminal’ RK 19/7/16; ‘the criminal Assad regime’ RK 18/1/14; civilians are being intentionally starved by the Assad Regime’ RK 19/4/14; ‘Assad is starving, torturing, & killing not just Syrian but also Palestinians’, BN 26/8/14.
From very early in the war many allegations of atrocities and war crimes have been leveled at the Syrian government and then soon shown to be false. Furthermore, substantial research had been carried out revealing the extent of foreign intervention, the billions of dollars of aid to the ‘rebels’, the many thousands of mercenaries pouring in through Turkey. However even in February 21015 Norton was still undeterred. According to his article 56 dead in one day: a Glimpse of Assad’s brutality Assad was responsible both for the early violence:
Since Assad first tried to drown the nonviolent popular uprising against his fascist regime in blood in 2011 …
and its continuation:
… the Syrian regime has dropped thousands upon thousands of bombs on civilian areas—and has engaged in systematic campaigns of torture, starvation, and rape. […] If you want to see why horrible reactionary groups like Al-Nusra and even ISIS have support among some Syrians, try taking a look at the crimes the fascist Assad regime commits on a daily basis. […]
Norton is, therefore, offering a partial justification for joining ISIS.
No possible accusation has been overlooked. Specific claims of atrocities are seized on, never questioned and then, once debunked by others, forgotten. Although the thirdwayers, unlike the hard-line interventionists, may be prepared to discard discredited anti-Assad horror stories, this never seems to impact on the overall theme of Assad the monster. Thus massacres such as those that occurred at Houla, Ghouta and Banias were all immediately blamed on the Syrian government by both the corporate media and the third-wayers, even though subsequently found to have been carried out by insurgents, for either ethnic cleansing or ‘false flag’ purposes. (Blumenthal was still insisting that the Houla massacre was carried out by ‘shabiha’ (derogatory term for local defence forces) in February 2013, see video, below).
Assad is correlated with Israel, or ISIS, or is even worse than ISIS, according to both Rania Khalek
echoing the sentiments expressed by Josie Ensor of the Telegraph a few months earlier
The public knowledge that both the US and Israel are hell-bent on regime change in Syria was turned on its head with claims that the US and Israel supported Assad: ‘”Israel’s preference is for Bashar al Assad to remain in power…”‘, MB 11/12/2012.
US support for the ‘Assad regime was a favourite theme of Ben Norton, who explored this thesis in an article US Government Essentially Sides with Assad. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Norton supports the US administration in its blatant fiction that its priority is going after ISIS:
‘With the Syrian Civil War approaching its fourth whole year, the evidence increasingly suggests that the Obama administration has essentially sided with the Assad regime. […] In October 2014, Foreign Policy noted that “U.S. officials are beginning to see Assad as a vital, de facto ally in the fight against the Islamic State.”’
With the advent of foreign fighters from Central Asia, polio reappeared in Syria, after having been eradicated in 1995 (the strain in Syria is the same as that present in Pakistan, source and transit point for many jihadists fighting in Syria). Despite being engulfed in war the Syrian [government] acted quickly to set in place vaccination programmes (the latest campaign was announced on 16 October). Rania Khalek, however, laid a large part of the responsibility at the door of the ‘regime’, likewise ignoring evidence available at the time which showed that the Red Crescent is frequently blocked by groups such as the ‘Free Syrian Army’.
The insanely high toll [from chronic disease] is largely due to the Assad regime’s criminal use of food and medicine as weapons in his war against his own people.’
The discrediting of the 2011 lie that Gaddafi was giving black mercenaries viagra to encourage them to rape Arab women did not deter Ben Norton from seizing with alacrity on an obscure and short-lived rumour that the Deputy Mufti of the ‘Syrian regime’ advocated rape by the army.
In parallel with the demonisation of Bashar al Assad is the recurrent theme of contempt for Assad supporters.
Undermining one of NATO’s principle planks and justification for intervention, ie the demonisation of al Assad, is an enormous threat to the NATO narrative. For this reason a major focus of the anti-Syria left has been to undermine, not just the Syrian government, but also the credibility of pro-Syria activists who have questioned the atrocity narrative.
Critics of the anti-Assad narrative are deemed to be stupid and hypocritical. A spate of tweets about the pusillanimity of ‘Assad worshippers issued from Ben Norton in 2014, eg 24 August: ; I just can’t get over the ludicrous degrees Assad defenders are going to to try to defend the mass murderer… it’s almost unbelievable.’; ‘HAHAHAHAHAHA, these Assad-worshiping conspiracy theorists just get more and more absurd. They are completely deranged’. ‘The Western “anti-imperialists” who support (read: worship) Assad so fervently have never met a working-class Syrian’.
Max Blumenthal is equally contemptous of ‘Assad apologists”, informing writer Miri Wood: ‘when non Muslima say takfiri I cringe almost as much as when they defend Assad’s reign of terror 16/9/14. Even Syrians cannot escape Blumenthal’s derision:
Assad supporters have, we are told, a tendency to Islamophobia, ‘I noted a while ago that Islamophobia informed certain Assad apologists’ MB 12/4/13; or fascism and Stalinism, ‘when you see someone defend Assad, remind them that Fascists & far-rightests throughout europe support Assad’ 12/4/13.
In this tweet of March 2016, Norton is referring to the protester top right, who is holding a placard supporting Bashar al Assad. Not everyone was convinced by Norton:
In October 2013 Blumenthal tweeted:
Thus in an impressive use of twitter, he managed to impugn the integrity of an opponent to regime change, indicated that it was ‘Assad’ that was responsible for the Ghouta sarin attack, and played ‘in bed with Israel’ card.
In late 2012 Max Blumenthal noisily resigned from al-Akhbar News, complaining that the outlet was providing a forum for ‘Assad supporters’. As well as publishing a letter of resignation, Blumenthal’s departure from the newspaper was the subject of an interview with The Real News in which, on the basis of his visit to a refugee camp in Jordan, he presents himself as an expert on Syria. The video is 18 minutes and is an education.
In letter and interview Blumenthal reiterates his position on the Syrian war: ‘the Syrian army’s pornographically violent crackdowns on what by all accounts is still a mostly homegrown resistance’, the regime’s responsibility for massacres such as Houla; ‘the Assad regime’s campaign to delegitimise the Syrian opposition by casting it as a bunch of irrational jihadis’. According to Blumenthal, Assad ‘makes Israel look like a champion of human rights’.
There is an interesting attempt to correlate Hezbollah with al Qaeda and ISIS: ‘ironically [the Syrian regime] seem to have little problem with Hezbollah’s core Islamist values’. One wonders what the people of Maaloula, very thankful to be liberated from jihadists with the help of Hezbollah, would make of Blumenthal’s implication.
[Hezbollah fighter saluting the Virgin Mary after the Battle of Maaloula]
In 2014 Norton wrote a spiteful article termed Meet the Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theorists Who Are Assad’s Biggest Fans. The primary purpose appears to have been to wreak vengeance on a group of social media activists who found it hard to take Norton at his own evaluation:
Norton starts from the fundamental premise that all who oppose the war on Syria are, without exception, devoid of all moral sense.
Those of us with at least some kind of rudimentary moral compass are compelled to oppose draconian tyrants like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, whose regime regularly engages in brutal state terrorist campaigns of mass bombing, torture, starvation, and rape of civilians, including children.
The article is a fascinating exercise in dishonesty, damning the ‘antisemites’ by association with the anti-war movement and vice-versa, and conflating all members of the group on every point while ignoring all contrary evidence. (Norton’s piece was answered by one of the group.
Regime change the third way
The part played by the NATO countries, the Gulf States, Turkey and foreign mercenaries has been essentially ignored or denied by the thirdwayers, who have stayed with their narrative of a ‘civil war’. They have theoretically been opposed to proposals for open military intervention, or at least the idea of bombing campaigns, whether by the NATO states or Russia.
The narrative hasn’t been totally consistent: a lot of what is tweeted is ambiguous, even irresponsible, often indicating that intervention might actually be the humanitarian option.
Again, Blumenthal’s angry response in 2014 to an article by Bob Dreyfuss suggesting that Obama give up on regime change in Damascus hardly seems consist with an anti-interventionist viewpoint.
Max Blumenthal’s own credentials as a ‘reporter from the region’ lie in a visit to Jordan to interview refugees. The article chronicles the dire conditions in Zaatari camp, but Blumenthal chooses to end on a call for bombing Syria: ‘Either bomb the regime or you can bomb Zaatari and get it over with for us.’
The group’s principle plank is that the conflict in Syria is a ‘civil war’, a ‘popular revolution’. While being opposed in principle to external intervention, they have facilitated that intervention by promoting NATO propaganda against the Syrian government and in favour of the ‘revolutionaries’, in effect the jihadist extremists who have controlled the insurgency from the beginning. They may not be responsible for the inception of the war, but they share culpability for its continuation.