Category Archives: Syria

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.”

 

Britain seems now to have more invested in imperialism than the US

Just like NATO, fearful of losing US support for their desire to return to a Cold War-era, began beating the anti-war drums after the US election, Britain’s government is upset about Trump’s peaceful outlook on Russia in Syria.

In what seems like a significant foreign policy split, officials in Britain admitted that they will have some “very difficult” conversations with the President-elect in coming months over his approach to Russia.

This comes after Mr Trump used his first interviews since winning the US election to indicate that he will withdraw support for rebels in Syria and thank Vladimir Putin for sending him a “beautiful” letter.

Mr Trump said that he will instead join forces with Russia and focus on defeating DAESH/ISIL. He has previously said it would be “nice” if the US and Russia could work together to “knock the hell out of ISIL”.

His views are in stark contrast with those of Theresa May, who has accused President Assad’s regime of perpetrating “atrocious violence” and said that the long-term future of Syria must be “without Assad”.

Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, has accused Russia of perpetrating war crimes over the deaths of hundreds of civilians.

The dramatic shift in US policy has prompted significant concern in the Foreign Office, and Britain will use the next three months before Mr Trump enters the White House to try to convince him of the importance of removing President Assad.

The Telegraph tells us that Mr Johnson is expected to fly to the US within weeks to meet with senior figures in Mr Trump’s administration and make clear that Britain believes that Mr Assad must go.

The diplomatic tensions emerged as a flotilla of Russian warships which passed through the English Channel has now arrived off the coast of Syria ahead of a major offensive against ISIL.

In other developments:

  • Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, warned that European members of NATO have become “too dependent” on the support of the US after Mr Trump accused them of failing to pull their weight.
  • Mrs May will on Monday highlight the importance of globalisation to international security in an ever-changing World. She will also compare the US election to Brexit and say that that the West must recognise the concerns of people who have “seen their communities changed” by migration.
  • Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, met with members of Donald Trump’s inner circle at Trump Tower in New York after saying Theresa May must “mend fences” with the President Elect.
  • Marie Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right Front National, praised President Putin for “defending the interests of his own country” as she criticised US and European aggression towards Russia.
  • Mr Johnson boycotted a “crisis” meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels to discuss how Europe will deal with the aftermath of the US election.
  • Mr Trump said on Twitter yesterday: “This will prove to be a great time in the lives of all Americans. We will unite and we will win, win, win!”

In his very first interview Mr Trump told the Wall Street Journal that his administration will prioritise defeating DAESH/ISIL in Syria rather than removing President Assad.

He told the Wall Street Journal: “I’ve had an opposite view of many people regarding Syria. My attitude was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS.

“Russia is now totally aligned with Syria, and now you have Iran, which is becoming powerful, because of us, is aligned with Syria. Now we’re backing rebels against Syria, and we have no idea who these people are.”

He added that if the US attacks President Assad’s regime “we end up fighting Russia”.

Arabs pull out of Syrian Democratic Forces: the deceit is now plain to see

Jason Ditz writes

There has been an attempt to brand the invasion of Raqqa as a broad-based coalition, as opposed to just a Kurdish invasion of the ISIS capital. This deceit appears to be crumbling as  Thuwar ar-Raqqa, the main Arab group involved in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) invasion, formally withdrawing from the group today.

The SDF is overwhelmingly just the Kurdish YPG with a handful of tiny affiliates, created mainly to allow them to argue invasions of ISIS territory don’t amount to an expansion of Syrian Kurdistan. The Thuwar ar-Raqqa would’ve been particularly useful to that effect, as a local force within Raqqa.

The group however, is arguing that the Kurdish forces had reneged on an agreement on the Raqqa invasion, in which the Kurdish YPG would let them “lead” the operation, and retain control of the city afterward. Instead, they say the US  and the YPG have moved to sideline them.

Now they say they aren’t going to participate in the invasion at all, and that the so-called “SDF” forces attacking Raqqa are exclusively the Kurdish YPG. This is likely to add to concern about Kurdish territory expansion, particularly by Turkey

Syria’s “Voice of Conscience” Has a Message for the West

Murtaza Husain and Marwan Hisham interview leftist opposition figure Yasin al-Haj Saleh now living in Turkey and ask the question:

What did you expect from the left in its response to the Syrian revolution?

Saleh: It came to me as a shock, actually, that most of them have sided with Bashar al-Assad. I don’t expect much out of the international left, but I thought they would understand our situation and see us as a people who were struggling against a very despotic, very corrupt, and very sectarian regime. I thought they would see us and side with us. What I found, unfortunately, is that most people on the left know absolutely nothing about Syria. They know nothing of its history, political economy, or contemporary circumstances, and they don’t see us.

Read full interview here

RIP US Hegemony

The last post below projects the end of US dominance over the Middle-East. Now even part of the Syrian opposition is being converted to the concept of aiding the Russian aim of re-establishing a multi-polar world.

As the US rushes towards an attack on Mosul pushing from behind the Iraqi government, Obama and the Democratic establishment hope for a quick victory to ensure Clinton’s success at the polls. However, like all of the short-sighted measures of US foreign policy, the wide licence given to the Iraqi government, including the chiding of the Turks in their wish to be part of the Mosul settlement, is simply reinforcing Iran in Iraq, as well as in Syria through the deployment of Iraqi Shia militias.

False talk of peace: the US turning a blind eye to the activities of Iraq’s Shi’a militias

Recently, Qasim Suleimani, head of the Iranian Quds Force, personally supervised the transfer to Damascus of one of the plethora of Iraqi Shiite militias which report directly to Khamenei’s personal office in Tehran. This helped taxidermists to stuff yet more straw into Assad’s corpse, and Russia to continue its Middle-Eastern expansion based on the ‘legitimate invitation’ of a régime which not only continues to enjoy the official ‘Syrian’ UN seat unchallenged, but seems to enjoy also a complicity of UN bodies without which it couldn’t have survived.  The permanence of the strategically vital Russian airbase at Khmeimim depends on this official sanction. 

The 1000 fighters from Akram al-Qa’bi’s Harakat Al Nujaba al Shi’iyya al Iraqiyya landing at Damascus airport in troop transport planes, joined other Iraqi militias operating in Syria since 2012: Asa’ib Ahlulhaq, Liwa’a Thulfiqar, Liwa’a Abul Fadl Al Abbas, and Kata’eb Hezbullah. Kata’eb Hezbullah isn’t to be confused with the Lebanese Hezbullah which is also helping to prop up Assad régime.

The Syrian army having more or less been decimated over the past 5 years, these are now the effective core of Assad’s ground troops. The loss of 60,000 soldiers by the Syrian Army has been interpreted by many as a sign of the ferocity of the onslaught by Sunni fighters on the Assad régime. However, it is more accurate to say that the death of some 400,000 civilians and the displacement of 15 million people (4.8m of them refugees) is a testament of the ferocity of the attack by the régime on its own people. It is this aggression which elicited the creation of a veritable multitude of local opposition groups, only some of which have been drawn into alliance with nationwide groups, such as Jabhat al-Nusra, funded by Sunni regional powers.

If, therefore, Shi’a militias organised by Iran represent the ‘boots on the ground’ that are keeping the régime in place, the blood they have shed in Syria is considerable, and these losses included Qasim Suleimani’s own second in commend in the Quds Force, Hossein Hamadani. This in turn has led Iran to recruit new militias his personnel from Shi’a outside Iraq, as far afield as Afghanistan, to form separate militias such as Liwa al-Fatimiyyun to fight alongside the Iraqis and Lebanese in Syria.

Peace conferences on Syria have come and gone. The latest in Lausanne, Switzerland, involving all parties involved in the conflict aside from Syrians themselves, ended with a whimper. There are many problems with achieving any political solution in Syria.

Firstly, the Higher Negotiating Committee (HNC) set up by Saudi Arabia this year to represent the opposition in negotiations with the régime  fails to include the most powerful Sunni forces on the ground in Syria; namely Jabhat al-Nusra, now known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and its allies Ahrar al-Sham. The US has failed to create a replacement ‘moderate’ force for these elements, ever since 2012 Hillary Clinton dismissed the Syrian National Council as a waste of time and a ‘talking-shop‘, which non-plussed its participants at the time, given that they were actually supposed to provide a political solution to the Syrian problem.

Secondly, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) representing the Syrian Kurds refuses to join the HNC, just as they earlier refused to join the Syrian National Council (SNC) in 2012, when initial negotiations with the régime in Damascus were being envisaged. The PYD is angling for its own state. The People’s Protection Units (YPG), the military arm of the PYD went, like Jabhat al-Nusra, gone through a process of rebranding to  the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF), to make their nation-building project more palatable. However, this fig leaf quickly fell apart, as a leader of the Sunni Arab contingent of the SDF, Abdel-Karim el-Obeid, explained in a recent interview. El-Obeid, who has now left the SDF, explains how decision-making was concentrated in the hands a small clique of Kurdish YPG elements in collaboration with US special forces. 

Thirdly, Iran is now so deeply ensconced in Damascus that any UN or international negotiations on Syria, which aimed as a serious political resolution would uncover the extraordinary fragility of the Assad régime, and would bring into question the continuance of Shia militias and Quds force personnel located in Syria. This is situation which both Russia and Iran want to avoid. 

The Question of Israel’s Change of Attitude

The one important thing to try to explain is why the Israelis might want to support this new Russian/Iranian status quo. Netanhayu has been remarkably quiet over the occupation of Damascus by what are, presumably, Israel’s deadliest enemies: Iran and the Lebanese Hezbullah.

Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCOPA) had been the subject of considerable friction between Netanyahu and Obama. Perhaps the fact that Netanyahu’s visit to the US Congress to appeal against Obama’s policy on Iran backfired, or perhaps the fact that the bitter Iranian pill was sweetened with a record-breaking military package, made all the difference. Nevertheless, JCOPA does mean that serious confrontation with Iran on the part of the US, unless a flagrant breach of the terms of the agreement occurs, is inconceivable. Furthermore, the outcome of this whole process has also put Israel in the novel position of being pushed by the UN to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Obama’s Syrian policy on the other hand, left a void which gave Russia the opening to establish what is now the unshakeable and unmistakable presence of the Khmeimim airbase, which changed the balance of power in the Middle East as soon as Russia deployed the S-400 anti aircraft system there. As one peace conference after another over Syria between the US and Russia fails, Russia digs its heels in, transferring yet more advanced weaponry to the naval base at Tartus, while Russian-Israeli relations in the region develop in new directions.

While a joint mechanism of “de-confliction” was set up to prevent mistaken air and ground clashes, this has not prevented Russian warplanes and drones infiltrating Israel at least 10 times in the past year testing and reporting on Israeli defences. When the Russians did the same in Turkey, after 11 warnings, the Turks shot a Russian fighter plane down. The Israelis, by contrast, held their fire. The arming of Khmeimim with the S-400, and Tartus with the S-300 solicited little comment from the Israel government, although Israeli media was quick to point out the consequent significant change in regional security architecture.

But that wasn’t all. When Russia finally agreed to deliver on its long-standing promise to supply the S-300 to the Iranians to deploy around the Fordow nuclear base, which has been a major bone of contention between Israel, the US and Russia since 2005, the Israeli government said nothing, although the US said ‘it was concerned’.

Since August 2015, Netanyahu has visited and phoned Putin more than any other world leader. Clearly, Russia’s arrival in Syria on the tail of Obama’s abdication required a new pragmatic attitude, especially when it came to Israel’s plans to export gas from the Leviathan field through Turkey to Europe. These Netanyahu declared were crucial to Israel’s future, and required that Israel acquiesce to the new Russian suzerainty over the region.

The matter of the Shi’a militias 

Reflecting the plethora of rebel groups in Syria, the creation of the innumerable militias in Iraq reporting directly to the Quds Force and thus to Iranian leader Khamenei’s office are an important tool of asymmetric warfare for Iran. Other than Ali al-Sistani’s Al-Housa al-Diniyya Fil Najaf al-Ashraf , and Muqdata al-Sadr’s Saraya al-Salam, which espouse Iraqi nationalism, and are not present in Syria, the over 50 other Shi‘a militias in Iraq report directly to Iran. But where the multitude of Syrian rebel groups represent a groundswell of popular rebellion in different localities against oppression, the large number of Iranian militias represent a mobilisation of competing groups to ensure enduring the direct Iranian control of the battlefield. 

While the US is clearly antagonistic towards the Assad régime, little criticism of Iranian policy in Syria and of the Shi’a militias, either in Syria or Iraq is forthcoming at present. Particularly striking, in the context of Iraq, has been the Iraqi government’s aggressive denunciation in regard to the 600 Turkish troops stationed at Camp Ba’ashiqah, with which it had previously been in agreement. In fact, the camp has been invested by the Turks at Iraq’s invitation. It is pretty clear that this is in response to Iranian pressure as the potential Iraqi seizure of Mosul opens up new strategic considerations in northern Iraq.

WhileTurkey has been giving military training to Kurdish peshmerga forces loyal to Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani and certain Sunni Arab tribes, called Hashd al-Nineveh, Iran has been backing Jalal Talabani, Barzani’s main opponent, and explicitly supporting Hashd al-Shaabi or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which is currently headed for Tal A’far to try to create a bridge for Iranian forces with its Syrian contingents.

The inclusion by the US of Turkey in the air campaign whilst trying to media between Turkey and Iraq demonstrates the difficult predicament the US finds itself in, as a result of its contradictory foreign policies.

The battle has been called at short notice by the US, as a response to its abject defeat in northern Syria by the Russians, in an attempt to re-establish itself in the Middle East ‘game’. But the battle for Mosul is merely a precursor, although an important one, for a further battle, this time in Syria, for Raqqa. While the US still plays a role in Iraqi politics, its position in Syria is non-existent as a result of Russian intervention. This last battle for the Syrian stronghold of DEASH/ISIL, therefore, will be last opportunity for the US to re-establish a position in Syria, and in this effort, the help of the Turkish army will be essential. Hence US ambivalence about the Turkish position in Iraq.

Nevertheless, the US turning a blind eye to the heavy involvement of Iran in Iraq and Syria through its militias is problematic. It is a policy not at all dissimilar to its covert support for Sunni jihadi fighting groups ever the covert campaign against the Russians in the 1980s, and can only lead to further chaos.