Category Archives: Syria

Turkey launches Operation Euphrates Sword: keeping Russia and the US apart

Turkish forces have built up around the Turkish-Syrian border town of Kilis in the past couple of weeks, from where Operation Euphrates Sword is currently being launched by the Turkish armed forces without any official press release. The low key operation has been billed as a mere continuation of Operation Euphrates Shield. The small Russian contingent in Afrin has withdrawn in anticipation of the Turkish advance.

The area between Al-Bab, which is held by the Free Syrian army and Turkish support troops, and Afrin – including Sheikh Isa, Tal Rifaat and Menagh, where there is an old Syrian airbase – will be the initial target of the Turkish advance. The second objective will be the area between Afrin and Idlib, which is the headquarters of Al-Nusra Front.

The Astana talks, according to the spokesman for the Turkish presidency, İbrahim Kalın, are in the process of setting up de-confliction zones in Syria. He announced that the parties to the talks (Russia, Turkey, Iran) ‘… are working on a mechanism that will probably involve Turkey and the Russians in Idlib, Russians and Iranians around Damascus and Jordanians and Americans in the Daraa area in the south.’ This particular involvement of the Americans is a proposal of the Russians and the Turks, which the US has yet to respond to (as of 07-07-2017 Trump and Putin agreed this at the G20 summit).

However, on another front, and since the consolidation of the alliance between the US and the YPG militias of the Kurdish Syrian PYD movement, Turkey is convinced that a Syrian-Kurdish state on its borders will be in the offing after the Raqqa operation is over. The massive arms supplies by the US to the YPG are being described by Gen. James Mattis as temporary, and he is described as probably being sincere on his own account. On the other hand, it is pretty clear that the American foreign policy establishment has for a long time been, and will continue to be, gunning for régime change in Turkey.

A consensus has formed in Turkey that the CIA was involved in the July 15 coup in Ankara last year with the help of the Pennsylvania-based preacher, Fethulla Gülen. The American foreign policy establishment is using its soft power to propel the narrative that Turkey is breaching human rights and sullying its democratic record in its treatment of journalists, academics, soldiers and bureaucrats suspected of links with Gülen. Turkish authorities, however, refuse to back down on their controversial methods, however, which cast a net of suspicion over a wider number of people than can stand the test of the law.

The emergency measures are, nevertheless, intended to reduce the chances of a follow-up coup, in the light of obfuscation on the part of the Americans in regard to the events of the coup, as well as clear interference on the part of Germany in Turkey’s last referendum process. Were the US and German governments keen specifically on supporting human rights and democracy in Turkey, closer cooperation with Turkey in Syria and over the Gülen affair would be a natural way forward to allay the country’s fears. Clearly, however, the two Western countries are more interested in escalating tensions over Turkey’s security embarrassments, in order to further widen the divisions within Turkey, in the continual hope that the AKP government will at some stage be overwhelmed by events.

Irrespective of whether the PYD has legitimacy among its own Kurds or not, it serves the US narrative to push the agenda of a ‘secular’  movement against the conservative AKP alliance ruling Turkey at the moment. This is especially the case since the PYD is part of the wider Kurdish KCK organisation which is fighting a guerrilla war with Turkey against the state through the PKK. Furthermore, there is no lack of funding. US ally UAE is backing the PKK against Turkey just as it funded the attempted July 15 coup.

It is clear from the recent downing of a Syrian army jet and the aggressive posturing by the White House against the Assad régime that the US is in the process of carving out an enclave in northeastern Syria from which it will seek to pursue its plans against both Turkey and Iran. These recent moves have pushed Russia to advance the de-confliction plans at Astana more quickly than expected and to allow Turkey’s plans to expand its zone of control in northern Syria to include Afrin, and Managh airbase, where some of the YPG militias are based. Turkish timing in based on the current YPG focus on the fight in Raqqa.

The Turks see this new operation as necessary to cover their backs in the coming effort to police the rebel held areas around Idlib, while the Russians do not wish to have any sizeable commitment on the ground beyond the strategic capabilities already in place at the Khmeimim airbase, which will provide air cover for the Turks. An agreement between Russia and Turkey in that zone will alleviate Russia’s difficult position by reducing the risk of outright air confrontation with the US. This is definitely in the global interest. Russia’s S-400s can easily clear the air of US fighter jets in the region, but such action would lead to a serious global escalation. Best keep the S-400s as a threat than actually use them (I think Sun Tzu said something like that).

These developments are in the interests of world peace in that they reduce the chances of conflict between Russia and the United States. Apart from the possibility of a joint US-Jordanian participation in a southern deconfliction zone, direct US influence in Syria will be limited to the area east of the Euphrates. More important is the fact that the permanence of Russian bases in the country in the Latakiyya area are no longer dependent merely on Assad’s de juro backing, but on Turkey’s de facto protection. The US is now paying a heavy geopolitical price for its double dealing with the Turks, as James Jeffrey, previous Ambassador to Ankara, predicted would happen.

Assad and the crimes at Khan Sheikhun

Assad’s crimes divide polite society. He must be enjoying it. The report by the French Intelligence services – if correct – would not only confirm Assad as the perpetrator of the Khan Sheikhun chemical attack, but would lend yet further credence to the catastrophic errors of naysayers on Assad’s role in the Ghouta chemical massacre such as Seymour Hersh and Robert Parry (the latter doubled down on Khan Sheikhun), while vindicating the view of Muhammad Idrees Ahmad that the editors of the London Review of Books were negligent in their duty in publishing Hersh’s article, and that Hersh was spectacularly obtuse in proceeding with evidence from a single intelligence source among the Western intelligence services to write his article.

The new evidence is furthermore a huge embarrassment for Putin, who has admitted to Erdoğan that he would like a solution to the Damascus problem and that he ‘… is not Assad’s lawyer’. It must be said that Russia refuses to accept the evidence in the reports on the basis that the samples tested by French authorities could have been obtained anywhere, and of course, there is always a margin of doubt. It is pushing out the meme that it has “irrefutable proof” that the Khan Sheikhun attack was a “provocation”, without supplying any evidence.  This is the same face saving ploy Russia used in the case of the downed jet which “hadn’t strayed into Turkish territory”, when it said the black box was broken and couldn’t yield any information. Human Rights Watch, however, maintain that Assad’s forces not only used chemical weapons at Khan Sheikhun, but is actually using them systematically even at the present time, with evidence of this in at least four other locations. A BBC report even provides some evidence as continuing chemical weapons manufacture at three different sites (see map above).

The argument ran after Khan Sheikhun that Assad ‘had no reason to commit such an atrocity’ in view of the fact that the war was going his way and that it would cause a reaction from the West. David Morrison’s argument that ‘Assad didn’t do it’ – or indeed do Ghouta – is firmly based on this presupposition (the reference there to Hersh suffers from the problems outlined above). But these kinds of arguments display a lack of experience as to how Middle Eastern despots actually function and how they are used to promulgate fear among their populations. Watching Ali al-Dhafiri’s (Arabic) interview on al-Jazeera with Abdel-Halim Khaddam, Assad’s minister of foreign affairs until 2005, could be an education in this respect. See Part 1 (which starts with Hafez al-Assad), and Part 2

To read the actual forensic report from the French government see here, and to see the annex click here

 

You lost your chance Russia to do the right thing: Trump teaches Assad a lesson… finally

While Russia continues to spin yarns about Assad’s atrocity in the town of Khan Sheikhun, the US has carried out a justified missile attack against Ash Sha’irat air base in Syria 38km southeast of Homs. The Pentagon said 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired at 04:40 Syrian time (01:40 GMT) from destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean. In a televised address, Trump said the base was the launch point for the chemical attack.

Russia also now puts itself in an awkward position as Rex Tillerson criticises Russia’s role in enabling Assad. According to a 2013 deal between Russia and the Obama administration, Assad was supposed to have eliminated his chemical weapons stockpile, while Russia was supposed to act as guarantor. So as Tillerson points out ‘Russia has failed in its responsibility to deliver on that commitment from 2013. Either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent…’

Its time Russia came down hard on Assad

Assad killed over eighty-nine people, including 33 children and 18 women and maimed many others in the most horrible way in a gas attack. The Russian excuse that the Syrian air force mistakenly bombed a rebel chemical stockpile is not credible. This was an air launched chlorine gas attack in which Sarin gas was also present. Sarin is a deadly nerve agent which Assad has used before.

Hamish de Bretton Gordon, director of Doctors Under Fire and former commanding officer of the UK Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Regiment, said “I think this [claim] is pretty fanciful…Axiomatically, if you blow up Sarin, you destroy it”.

Come on Russia, Assad shouldn’t have been breaking the ceasefire anyway. Come down on him before Trump does, or you will lose Turkey. The Astana process involving you, Turkey and Iran is worth saving isn’t it?

Pentagon actions in Syria and Iraq turning the US into a bit-player in the face of Russian strategy

Local populations displaced from Manbij

The Pentagon has led the way in forming Middle East policy, normally the province of the White House and the US State department. In Iraq, where it still controls a huge base in Baghdad’s Green Zone (known as the US Embassy) it is fighting alongside the Iraqi army to retake Mosul. But whatever it does, because it has not set out its strategy on the basis say of protecting the persecuted Sunni minority of the country, but rather simply as “fighting ISIS”, all its decisions play into the hands of the Iranians, who control the situation.

The situation is even worse in Syria, where Generals Townsend and Votel have built an alliance with the Kurdish YPG, purportedly again to “fight ISIS”, but really simply to re-establish a military presence in Syria, which had been lost. Joseph Votel was very vocal about the Turkish government’s purge of pro-US officers and Votel’s personal contacts in the Turkish military (TSK) involved in the July 15 attempted coup. The dogged resistance to Erdogan’s independent foreign policy in the US military-industrial complex has earned the Turkish President the enmity of the West’s liberal establishment. More particularly, the Pentagon’s support of the YPG is aimed at hurting Turkey, supposedly a NATO ally, albeit it one that is no longer on a tight leash.

As Liz Sly has reported the YPG or the People’s Protection Units, are the military wing of a political movement called the Democratic Union Party (PYD) that has been governing northeastern Syria for the past 4 1/2 years, and which seeks to apply Abdullah Ocalan’s Marxist vision to the areas with a majority Kurdish population vacated by the Syrian government during the war.  Its rule is one of force and does not have the democratic mandate of the Kurds living in the areas it controls, let alone that of the non-Kurds (Arabs, Turcomans). It depends for its survival on US support.

The YPG is ultimately a reverse expansion into Syria of Öcalan’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which was launched in Diyarbakir in 1978 to demand independence from Turkey for the Turkish Kurds. It soon set up a safe haven in Syria with the backing of Hafez al-Assad, who wanted to put pressure on Turkey over water supplies at the time of the building of the Euphrates dams. But Öcalan was able to play both ends against the middle and ever since July 1979, and despite the eagle eyes of the Syrian regime watching his movements, Öcalan was able to export his Marxist-Leninist “vanguard” party idea to Syria, laying the foundation stone for the PYD as a purely political movement to start with, with US support.

While the traditional “white Turk” Kemalist governments in Turkey pursued a policy of heavy repression in Southern-eastern Turkey in response to the PKK’s activities there, Erdogan called for the “Kurdish opening” in 2005, despite the opposition to this by the Turkish military establishment. He tried to broaden the Turkish democratic space into a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious political project. But the PKK’s insistence on a continuing war tipped the delicate political balance within Turkey against Erdogan, who was then forced to relent to the demand of Turkish nationalist elements to suppress Kurdish ambitions. Since then like-for-like aggressive action has had to be adopted by the Turkish authorities in response to the PKK’s terror tactics and its murder of civilians as well as military personnel in Turkey.

The US military’s blithe dismissal of the tight links between the PKK and the YPG is aimed at putting pressure on Turkey over its independent foreign policy. Effectively the Pentagon is supporting terror within a NATO ally’s borders. The Turkish government continues dialogue with the US on this subject and threatens but does not deny use of military bases in Turkey to the Pentagon. Nevertheless the strategy has pushed Turkey increasingly into the arms of Russia and this has led directly to victory for Russian policy in Syria, in particular, to the survival of Bashar al-Assad.

What is worse is that now the Pentagon has painted itself into a corner in Syria in virtue of its contradictory policy. Response to the deluge of Syrian refugees from the Syria wars, Turkey launched “Operation Euphrates Shield” without US knowledge, although it had obtained a reluctant agreement to the idea from Obama in principle, in order to carve out a safe region in which Syrians opposed to the Assad government in Damascus could stay. As much as anything, its timing was a response to the PYD/YPG’s attempt to carve out its own state in northern Syria along the Turkish border. In the process, the YPG had been pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing, to establish its rule.

On US advice, the YPG integrated a small proportion of the displaced Arab male youth into its so-called “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), after their careful Marxist-Leninist political indoctrination, in order to deflect criticism of the inbred nature of the organisation and its ruthless tactics. However, the deceit became all too apparent as these Arab elements became marginalised. An important town ethnically cleansed by the YPG is Manbij, which became a target in the campaign of the TSK and the Syrian opposition groups formed into the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA), which the TSK operationally supports, to clear a northern Syrian safe region.

Seeing the TSK/FSA success in clearing ISIS out of al-Bab, and then turning towards Manbij to clear that town for Arab re-settlement, the PYD/YPG contacted the Russians who brokered the handing over of the villages surrounding Manbij to the west to the Assad government, ostensibly to act as a buffer zone. The Turkish government said in response that it welcomed the hand-over of the Manbij outskirts to the Assad government, in exchange for keeping Manbij itself. However, as it became clear that the PYD/YPG was now seeking Russian protection, not wanting to compromise its position in that zone, US forces arrived to reinforce the PYD/YPG.

Joseph Votel and the Pentagon staff behind him state that their alliance with the YPG has a purpose to employ what it considers the best fighting force in the area against ISIS in Raqqa. However, engaging against the extremely difficult and entrenched positions of ISIS in Raqqa will mean that Manbij will have to be emptied of its defensive forces, both in respect of the YPG and the US, in order to make any credible attempt against this vast and sprawling ISIS fortress in Raqqa, recently reinforced by surviving ISIS brigades from al-Bab. The Turkish position, and that therefore of the FSA forces it backs, is seen therefore as a hindrance to the Raqqa operation.

This now cannot take place without full Russian cooperation in respect of an agreement to hold the TSK/FSA in its current positions to allow the Raqqa operation to proceed. While Russia gains everything from this political chess game, the US thus paints itself into a corner, not only tactically, but strategically, as its armed forces sacrifice the country’s relationship with Turkey, which is not only supposedly a NATO ally, but has the second largest army within the alliance, and is the most geographically strategic NATO country.

Russia, meanwhile, is benefiting from Turkey’s turn to the east, but calculates that Turkey has no choice but to pursue good relations with Russia as a result of its economic and commercial strategy, and as a result also of the fact that Russia is the Syrian policeman. Putin continues to develop good relations with the Syrian Kurds, in order to avoid losing its hegemonic role over Syria. This means that Turkey will have to stand back from further expansion of its safe region.

But thus allowing the Syrian Kurds political independence from the US, Russia continues to protect its dominant position, which it denies to the US simply in virtue of avoiding polarisation on the ground between Syrian factions backed by rival superpowers. The US is thus boxed into being a bit-player on the Syrian scene, just as it is in Iraq.

It is clear that the Pentagon has pursued war willy-nilly against any and all more nuanced White House foreign policy, not just now under Trump, but also under Obama. As the Pentagon increasingly goes AWOL, and the liberal establishment and its mainstream media promotes the aimless self-interested aggression-for-its-own-sake of the US military-industrial complex, US policy in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria will continue its disjointed, self-contradictory path, dooming the US empire to further abject failure after failure, in a replay of the fall of Rome, drawn out in slow motion over decades as a result of the sheer capacity of the US Congress to fund mind-boggling, but obviously purposeless military budgets.

Grinding towards peace in the Middle East

It’s early 2017 and there’s a chance for peace in Syria, but it’s complicated. One regional superpower and two regional powers in the Middle East – Russia, Turkey and Iran – have agreed a trilateral monitoring commission to monitor the Syrian ceasefire at Astana in Kazakhstan. The UN is in attendance, but the US absent, apart from the formality of the presence of the local US Ambassador.

Surely, this is a historic state of affairs, especially since the absence of the US isn’t the choice of the new isolationism of a Trump administration; it is outcome of the abject failure of Obama’s globalism in the face of Russian opportunism, long-term Iranian strategy, and the reaction by Turkey to its changed circumstances.

But the Middle East isn’t just Syria; another war grinds on in Yemen. However, the increasingly unwinnable nature of this conflict contributes at great cost to the Yemeni people to growing stability in the rest of the Middle East. Read full article here

A new security architecture for the northern Middle-East

Iran, Russia, and Turkey meet to shape a new peace arrangement in Syria, following the increasing absence of the Western powers from the Middle-East, as a result of their disastrous policies since the Iraq War. This has signalled, as I explained in July this year,  the trend towards the consolidation of an entirely new security architecture directed by the three major powers in the region. The Iranian sensibilities which have slowed down the evacuation of Aleppo, have been accommodated by Russia and Turkey not only from an immediate need to complete the evacuation, but also from an overall understanding that there are, despite everything, overall common interests.

The interconnected interests of the three powers effectively means that Western influences will be squeezed out of the region, despite the fact that the US is using the fight against DAESH/ISIL  to try to stay in the game. The Iranian backing of Shia militias, if they are contained and do not attempt to move into Tel A’far or into the countryside around Idlib, is increasingly seen by Turkey and Russia as a valid strategy by Iran to counter the unfortunate proclivity of Sunni jihadis to accept Western aid, which is given to them either directly or through Saudi Arabia despite the fact that they are demonised in the Western media.

The new security architecture is strengthened, not weakened, by the different approaches and occasionally sharp disagreements of the three powers over their local interests, simply because of the overall danger posed by the covert interference of Western powers. The most important example of this is Turkey’s acceptance of the Russian insistence on the permanence of the Assad régime (and Assad personally when it comes to the Iranians), which has come about because of the fact that Western intelligence agencies continue to back deep state operators in the country in order to sow terror even after their attempt to overthrow of the Turkish government failed.

Future US policy towards the region is complicated by the fact that Trump seeks an alliance with Russia while inconsistently demonising Iran and that Trump’s pro-Russian stance itself may fail to become effective as a result of the objections of the US deep state. As the Turkish government consolidates its gains after foiling the July 15 coup attempt, it is clear that rather than achieve the objective of turning Turkey into a client state that could be used to undermine and encircle Russia, the actions of the Western intelligence agencies have of late driven the two powers together. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand what the strategy of the Western intelligence-media conglomerate is, and it is precisely this Cold War mentality which increasingly cements the cooperation of the three rival powers in the northern Middle-East.

Qatar, a close ally of Turkey, has effectively underwritten the new political settlement in Syria, in view of its massive investment through Qatar Investment Authority and Glencore (in which it is majority investor) into Rosneft. It is this move in particular which encouraged Putin to stick his neck out to seek a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis at the planned summit in Astana, Kazakhstan. The rapprochement between Qatar and Russia will put pressure on Syrian rebels to change their attitude and accept a political settlement which includes Assad.

In fact, Russia had tried and failed to form alliances within Syrian rebels groups in the past to bolster its interests on the ground. Within the past twelve months it had resumed pursuing diplomatic efforts in this regard.

Thousands driving to Cilvegözü crossing in Hatay to meet refugees, as evacuation suspended

 

Hatay camp set up to house 50,000 refugees, but confusion reigns supreme as evacuation is suspended. It looks like 800 refugees in one convoy on its way to Idlib were held up by Shia militias. The Russians are trying to tell us, however, that the evacuation is complete. But as at 17.00 GMT there are still 40,000 people left in Aleppo including 3,000 fighters.

It appears that it is the Lebanese Hezbolla which is standing in the way of the proper completion of the evacuation, and that there is serious tension between Russia and Iran as a result. It is difficult to see how Russia can plan a peace conference in Kazakhstan between the different sides in the conflict, given Iran’s ongoing ideological-religious project taking advantage of the US interregnum, repopulating strategic areas in Syria, and ethnically cleansing Sunnis.

The Russians inherit a wasteland and the Saudis… the whirlwind

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, just over 10,000 people in Syria were killed by Russian airstrikes between 30 September 2015 and 30 October this year, of whom 2,861 were members of the Islamic State (IS) group, 3,079 fighters from rebel and Islamic factions, 2,565 males over the age of 18,1,013 children under the age of eighteen and 584 women.

Upon the fall of Aleppo, planned by the Russians for the US interregnum, David Hearst tells us: “From these figures alone, and there are others, it is clear that Russia has waged total war on an unprotected population in rebel-held areas. War on its people, its hospitals, and its markets, just like it did in Grozny 16 years ago. Its actions differ little from those of the Syrian army. Like all colonial powers, the Russian Federation has arrogated on itself the choice of deciding which Syrians live and which die. And if they are in rebel-held areas, they all die together. But that is not what worries Lavrov. Privately, Lavrov, like Pyrrhus before him, fears what victory looks like. What does “inhabited Syria”, the phrase I used earlier, actually mean, when victory has been declared? A pile of rubble, one ruined city after another, whose citizens will be totally dependent on aid for years to come?”

For years now we have watched as the Neanderthal Assad régime battled the Syrian rebels whose jihadi elements were funded by the even more retrograde Australopithecine Saudi régime, which will reap the whirlwind from its duplicitous intervention in this destructive civil war.

In two audio recordings widely circulated across social media, Michel Kilo, a Christian opposition thinker, equated Saudi Arabia to Israel and demanded that Riyadh fulfill its promises towards the Syrian opposition. He says of Saudi Arabia that “it has committed a crime against the Syrian people. Our brothers in Saudi Arabia are neither capable of drawing up a plan, nor are they able to lead a comeback against the campaign that is being waged against Arab and Islamic societies. They live just because they have money… but eventually they will see what’s coming for them. They are below the level of politics… democracy does not suit them, nor does an Islamic governance system.”

“This havoc will eventually end up destroying them [the Saudis],” he continued. “If events in our country do not come to an end, they [terrorists] will move towards them in multiples, because they are the ones with the money.I swear on the lives of my own children we shall not leave the Gulf intact. We shall dismantle it stone by stone. You are destroying the best country in the Islamic and Arab worlds, a country whose name is Syria.”