Syria: Not a Civil War but a War on Civilians

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes: The regime’s crimes are colossal, sustained, and deliberate; they are an expression of policy. The opposition is disorganised, anarchic and diffuse. Its crimes are impulsive, contained and chaotic: They reflect only on the group or individual committing the crime. Russian vetoes to protect specific regime violations have created a general climate of impunity where criminality thrives. This has to be reversed.

Yet the language of “both sides” and “no good guys” has created an artificial levelling where a largely peaceful uprising is placed on the same moral plane as the murderous regime that forced it to militarise.

To be sure, the regime’s ruthless campaign against the civil uprising has left a vacuum filled by many unsavoury groups. But the people who remain unvanquished in the face of a genocidal regime aided by two major powers is unlikely to be cowed by Al-Qaeda.

Indeed, since 2016, Syrian towns like Ma’arat al-Nu’man, Saraqeb, and Kafranbal have seen regular protests against both the regime and Al-Qaeda. Some towns have successfully expelled the jihadis and protests against Al-Qaeda are happening in Sarmada even as I write.

What we see in Syria is not a “civil war”, but a war on civilians. The label “civil war” suggests a kind of parity in a contest that is anything but equal. In Syria the battle has often been waged between high-altitude bombers and hospitals; between barrel bombs and playgrounds.

“To confuse [perpetrators] with their victims”, said the great Italian writer and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi, “is a moral disease or an aesthetic affectation or a sinister sign of complicity; above all, it is a precious service rendered (intentionally or not) to the negators of truth.”

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The Kingmaker and the snap Turkish election

 

Devlet Bahçeli is the “kingmaker” of Turkish politics. It was Bahçeli who called for early elections back in 2002, paving the way for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to come to office.

In the aftermath of June 2015 parliamentary election, in which the AKP failed to garner a sufficient majority to form a government, it was Bahçeli who rejected calls from other opposition parties to set up a coalition government, calling for early polls instead. In the November 2015 election the AKP increased its votes, and secured a parliamentary majority.

Subsequently, Bahçeli’s political profile grew substantially after the July 2016 coup attempt. On Oct. 11, 2016 he openly announced his party’s support for the AKP’s ambitions to change the administrative system from a parliamentary to an executive-presidency model. An AKP-MHP alliance narrowly won the constitutional referendum of April 16, 2017.

In early 2018, Bahçeli once again took the stage by declaring that the MHP will not present a candidate for the presidential race and instead will back President Erdoğan’s nomination, forming a new alliance, in light, on his view of the critical security situation Turkey faces at the centre of a collision between America and Russia in Syria.

Now that he has called for new snap elections, bringing forward the next presidential election from November 2019, after Erdoğan’s apparent refusal to contemplate such a move, Bahçeli secures Erdoğan’s agreement. However, the swiftness of the response and the very early date for the new election (June 2018) suggests Erdoğan was in on the idea from the start.

Both Erdoğan and Bahçeli are impatient to begin legislating for the new structures of governance under the presidential system, to consolidate Turkey’s transformation into a state capable of resisting the pressure and interference of foreign powers dogging its political system since 1947. Basically, the reason for the snap election is to wrong-foot Western powers and avoid election interference, which is what Binali Yildirim means when he says that there are ‘geopolitical reasons’ for election interference.

Nearing the last stage of the Trump Presidency?

Adam Davidson writes: This is the week we know, with increasing certainty, that we are entering the last phase of the Trump Presidency. This doesn’t feel like a prophecy; it feels like a simple statement of the apparent truth. I know dozens of reporters and other investigators who have studied Donald Trump and his business and political ties. Some have been skeptical of the idea that President Trump himself knowingly colluded with Russian officials. It seems not at all Trumpian to participate in a complex plan with a long-term, uncertain payoff. Collusion is an imprecise word, but it does seem close to certain that his son Donald, Jr., and several people who worked for him colluded with people close to the Kremlin; it is up to prosecutors and then the courts to figure out if this was illegal or merely deceitful. We may have a hard time finding out what President Trump himself knew and approved.

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Who is who in Syria and the problem faced by Turkey

Barçın Yinanç writes: A few days before the Turkish Armed Forces entered Afrin’s city center, video footage was all over the Turkish press showing how the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) was stopping civilians trying to leave the city. This was shown as evidence that the PYD, which is considered the Syrian arm of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), would use civilians as human shields in the anticipated urban warfare.

In the end, the PYD retreated from the center of Afrin and the urban warfare expected to take place with the Turkish army did not occur.

But this video footage remained as proof showing the city’s civilian Kurdish population’s wish to leave and in fact, those who found a way, left.

That brings us to the Turkish government’s first challenge. The Turkish government has been telling all regional and international actors in Syria that demographic engineering through ethnic cleansing should be avoided. Yet, while talking about “cleansing the PKK from the Turkish-Syrian border,” the Turkish government risks contradicting this position if civilian Kurds fleeing armed conflict do not return in fear of reprisal from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), or simply in fear of the presence of the Turkish army.

According to diplomatic sources, the representatives of the Kurdish population in Afrin have told the Turkish government that after having suffered for decades under the oppression of the Bashar al-Assad regime, and after having been subjected to similar oppressive rule by the PYD in the course of these last couple of years, they do not want to come under the oppressive rule of “Sunni Arabs” this time.

Therefore, the challenge for Turkey will be to make sure to separate between the People’s Protection Units (YPG)/PKK and the Syrian civilian Kurds, in addition to securing the return and guarantee of the rights of the latter.

Who is who among the Sunni groups

The second challenge is one posed by the Damascus-Moscow-Tehran trio. Supported by Russia and Iran, regime forces have been making advances against rebel fighters. The same pattern is applied each time, which we have witnessed in Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta and which we are now seeing in Douma. There is extensive bombing, including on critical infrastructure like hospitals, use of chemical attacks to further intimidate locals and then an offer to exit for those who want to leave.

Turkey undertook a cross border military incursion against the PKK in Syria, thanks to the green light from the Russians, but that came at the expense of regime attacks against the opponents, which started to flee towards regions under the control of Turkey, like Idlib and Cerablus. Ankara’s protests and numerous telephone calls between Russia and Turkey at the highest level did not stop the Russians’ strategy to push regime opponents toward Turkish controlled areas.

This brings us to the second challenge for Turkey, on identifying who is who among those fleeing towards Turkish controlled areas. You have a civilian woman whose husband is affiliated with Ahrar al-Sham, a brother who was a former member of the al-Nusra Front, an uncle with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and a brother-in-law with the FSA.

Then there is the challenge of Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTF). From Tunisians to Germans, from Moroccans to French, all are asking their Turkish counterparts what will happen with the FTF. Where will they go? Certainly back to their country of origin? And obviously they will pass through Turkey. Already, several diplomatic missions in Turkey are busy dealing with the FTF and their families; the ones who knock on their door but also who do not knock.

Those who do not want to return, like the Chechen and the Uyghurs, what will happen to them when their room to maneuver becomes limited in Syria? Will they find it easier to penetrate Turkey and become deadly lone wolves? Thanks to the military campaign, the PKK may now have limited capacity to use Syria as a launching pad. Will it be the same for the radical jihadists?

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This is not a staged performance. But it shouldn’t be an excuse to pander to the interests of the Western military-industrial complex

I agree with the Democracy Now! discussion between Glenn Greenwald and Amy Goodman that Assad is responsible for the Douma attack. Whilst many on the hard left/pro-Russia will cry false flag!, I have always thought that Assad was a ruthless liar and cheat, and I had written a lot about his dark history and that of his father on this site. It was pretty clear that Khan Sheikun was an Assad atrocity.

Was the destruction of the Assad chemical weapons stockpile with Russia’s intermediation, a ploy by Assad to start a new chemical weapons campaign under the cover that all such events could then be claimed to be CIA/MI6 false flags? Assad and his henchmen are capable of anything, and I believe that, indeed, this is the case.

Was that Russia’s intention also? I don’t think so – but by legalising its navy and airforce bases in Syria on the basis of an agreement with the so-called “legitimate” government of Syria, Russia has become hostage to Assad’s viciousness, and it is forced to use its vast media outlets to defend Assad at all cost. Assad knows this and believes he is inviolable.

On the other hand, in the Skripal case, the UK government seems to equally be hostage to its military-industrial complex (deep state) and thus behaves as shockingly as the Russians. The Russians are justified that this event is a blatant provocation by the UK, probably originally on instructions from the US (the deep state as opposed to the embattled Trump), who followed up the Skripal case immediately with swingeing  pre-prepared sanctions, and unprecedented massive expulsions of diplomats.

The latest round of US sanctions are harsh and are a reminder of the UK’s sanctions against Japan in the late 1930s, except that they are unlikely to hurt modern day Russia as they did Japan back then (whatever the UK Daily Mail’s jubilant editorials say), given that the country is not indebted by the standards of many modern states and that its trade with China is unaffected.

 

Liberals shrug. Their humanitarianism is a sham

Mehdi Hasan writes: “If the concept of intervention is driven by universal human rights, why is it — from the people who identify themselves as liberal interventionists — why do we never hear a peep, a word, about intervening to protect the Palestinians?”

That was the question I put to the French philosopher, author, and champion of liberal (or humanitarian) interventionism, Bernard-Henri Lévy, on my Al Jazeera English interview show “Head to Head” in 2013.

The usually silver-tongued Levy struggled to answer the question. The situation in Palestine is “not the same” as in Syria and “you have not all the good on one side and all the bad on the other side,” said Levy, who once remarked in reference to the Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF, that he had “never seen such a democratic army, which asks itself so many moral questions.”

I couldn’t help but be reminded of my exchange with the man known as “BHL” this past weekend, as I watched horrific images of unarmed Palestinian protesters at the Gaza border being shot in the back by the “democratic army” of Israel. How many “moral questions” did those Israeli snipers ask themselves, I wondered, before they gunned down Gazan refugees for daring to demand a return to their homes inside the Green Line?

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