Category Archives: Syria

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.

 

Clarity emerges as to the shape of the Syria to come: ethnic cleansing and emerging “sectors”

A worthless resolution was passed at the UNSC, emptied of content by the Russians, thus allowing the Iranians to continue ethnically cleansing Ghouta. On the tail of Israeli airstrikes against Iranian installations in and around Damascus, and after the Turkish army ensconced itself around the rebel capital of Idlib, Iran seeks to continue the same policy to the east of Damascus, which it has already succeeded in implementing to the west, in Darayya, namely that of ethnic cleansing. On the pretext of dealing with terrorists, it is emptying these areas of Sunni Syrians, ready for the settlement of Shi’a militias and their families.

Meanwhile Israel warns Iran that it will not allow a military build-up by its forces in southern Syria. However, Iran is not relying on military installations to expand its influence, but on populating strategic areas with communities that are faithful to its ideology. This is a policy ongoing in Syria, which worked favourably in the past in its long-term plan to bring Iraq under its control. Its military installations may be be blown up from time to time by Israel, but local populations faithful to the Iranian régime will continue rebuilding them, and ensuring that the crescent of Iranian control all the way to Southern Lebanon is established as a permanent and ineradicable feature of Middle-Eastern demography through Baghdad, Karbala, and Damascus.

The success of this Iranian strategy is evident in a reduced reliance by Iran on forces from  Lebanese Hezbollah in southern Syria, allowing Hassan Nasrallah to promise his Lebanese political partners that he will no longer have a role to play in Syria.

Meanwhile, all the noise about the Assad régime sending forces to Afrin to aid the Kurds against Turkey has also to be understood as part of the Iranian grand plan on two levels:

(1) The so-called Pro-Syria forces were actually Iranian militias. It has been clear for some time that Assad is an Iranian pawn. He is not even a Russian pawn – Russia is forced to back Iranian policy in Syria with their air power because it is Iran that has the forces on the ground in the form of militias that constitute the vast majority of the Syria government military machine. It also funds the Syrian government (such as it remains as a shadow of its former self), which has few resources remaining to it.

(2) Iran wants if possible to keep control of Aleppo. The Turkish encirclement of Afrin and Idlib which is ongoing in the slow methodical root and branch manner of the Turks, poses a problem as to where Turkish control ends and Iranian control begins. The confrontations now around Tall Rifa’at to the north-west of Aleppo, between the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Iranian militias, mean that the “border” between the new areas of influence is being decided. Iran sending militias to Afrin is not intended as a move to defend Afrin, but a tactical move to send units behind FSA lines in order to effect a better outcome for the Iranian side.

Furthermore, the alliance in Idlib province between Turkey and Tahrir as-Sham means the entire border between Afrin/Idlib and Aleppo provinces is being disputed.

In early 2017 it became clear, that the US, which had a confused, non-existent Syria policy under Obama, was turning inward under Trump. The Astana process between Turkey, Iran and Russia had begun and was clearly going to dominate the agenda in Syria for the foreseeable future. Now, a new situation has developed. This is primarily due to the unwillingness of the US to leave Syria, which is having two effects. On one hand its alliance with the Marxist-Kurdish group YPG/PYD/PKK spooked the Turks into a new military campaign in the Afrin region, and on the other its continued inexplicable presence after the defeat of DAESH/ISIS (despite the continuing rhetoric) is being interpreted by the Iranians as a ploy to break their long-term strategy.

With the US clearly posing a danger to the Assad régime (read Iranian interests) to the northwest, and Israel threatening Iran to the southeast, Iran has essentially broken away from the Astana process to carve out its area of influence in Syria as quickly as possible. This means that the Astana process is to all intents and purposes dead, as was patently clear at the Sochi conference, when the opposition objected to the hideous triumphalism of the Assad régime, and the Russian preparedness to humour the crass behaviour of Assad’s hangers on as the conference progressed.

Syria de facto is breaking into three sectors: With the US having decided some time ago to occupy Eastern Syria with the YPG/PYD/PKK militias as gophers, we have 3 “sectors” being carved out: the US, Iranian and Turkish spheres of influence. While Iran empties its zones of Sunni Syrians in order to repopulate with adherents to its ideology and interests, the Syrians all inevitably flee to the (now very crowded) Turkish zones, putting pressure on Turkey to complete its control of Idlib and Afrin, especially since Turkish voters are keen to see as many of the 3.7 million Syrian refugees within Turkey itself, resettled in their own country, as soon as possible. Note that the Astana process gave Egypt responsibility for the observation posts around Damascus. Egypt, however, is essentially a non-country at the moment, incapable of looking after its own affairs, let alone those of Syria. Perhaps that is why the ever calculating Russian diplomats gave it this sensitive task to understake.

With Astana goes the meaningfulness of all talk about the integrity of Syria, although rhetoric will always and inevitably continue to have a momentum of its own. A political process is impossible with a régime in Damascus that is a front for Iran. Russia may be claiming legitimacy for its military bases in Syria in virtue of the fact that it is the Damascus régime which has the accredited ambassador to the UN. But that is all it consists of. Iranian control of the régime can hardly be legitimised.

It is America we have to thank for causing the total destruction of Syria, the once most beautiful Arab country. Iran, Russia and Turkey may now have stepped in, but all this is due, in the first place, to US imperial rampages, its subsequent contradictory policies, and its craven political subservience to Israel. Furthermore, the problem continues as the Financial Times today calls US policy in Syria today inconsistent, and liable to lead to new dangerous outcomes, fearing especially that ‘… a miscalculation on the ground could now lead to direct fighting between NATO members’, in a reference to the US backing of the illegitimate YPG/PYD/PKK occupation of Manbij.

 

Idlib: the rebel capital of Syria

Turkey and Russia reached an agreement to implement a de-escalation zone over the entire Idlib Province of Syria at the last (6th) Astana Conference. According to the agreement, Turkey would become the guarantor of rebel opposition groups situated in the province. In this way another destructive campaign by the Assad régime in Syria could be avoided, and the migrant populations that have moved there due to their opposition to the régime would be saved from further harm. Turkey is deploying its troops in Idlib, not only to bring peace to the  area itself, but also to surround and neutralise the YPD/PKK Kurdish pocket in Afrin, in conjunction with the Euphates Shield A’zaz to Al-Bab zone to the north. This would bring about Turkey’s aim of halting plans for a unified and contiguous Kurdish state in Syria, and doing so without spilling any further blood.

Idlib has seen many refugees flock to the city, especially after the dramatic fall of Aleppo, bringing the overall population (of the city alone) to well over a million. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), dominated by the al-Nusra Front (Jabhat al-Nusra), took control of much of the province after many military confrontations with its rival Ahrar al-Sham. Despite HTS’s overall control, Ahrar al-Sham, Faylaq al-Sham, Jays al-Izza and Jays al-Idlib, and Nour al-Din al-Zenki continue to control different pockets throughout the province. While these latter groups support the Turkish deployment and its backing of the Free Syria Army (FSA), HTS remains opposed, and there it is likely that a confrontation with Turkish troops occurs at some point. HTS have informants within the other opposition groups and also have high ranking officers who are in the service of Western intelligence agencies.

Turkey’s Idlib Operation replaced the previously planned Euphates Sword, which would have seen an advance directly into YDP/PKK territory in Afrin. It is being conducted with the FSA factions in the lead, in a similar manner to the previous Operation Euphrates Shield (OES), which began from Jarablus. One of the successes of the Turkish Idlib Operation has been to encourage small groups of fighter to split off from HTS, in order to strengthen the FSA with new elements with local knowledge. Another success seems to have been the marginalisation of HTS by prioritising humanitarian aid and reconstruction. It would appear that HTS finds itself in a corner as a result of this policy, since any attack on its part would lead, not only to many losses among its fighters, but also any local standing it might continue to have in the community.

Developments in Iraqi Kurdistan with the collapse of the Barzani independence referendum saw Turkey help Iraq, leading to the prospect of the maintenance of Iraq’s sovereign integrity. Turkey’s change of stance has rebalanced forces within Iraq, where Abadi, instead of relying purely on the US to fend off the extreme pro-Iranian political factions in the Shia coalitions, can now count on a new ally with significant local economic import, to strengthen his suit. Iran , far from seeing this as an unwelcome development in Iraqi politics, is relieved that Turkey can thus dilute the importance of the US here. This reduces the commitments Iran needs to make to the Iraqi economy to keep US influence in the country marginalised, and lessen the reactions against its presence, from nationalist groups such as the Sadr movement. Abadi new tough language with the US is a sign of this rebalancing and of his new political standing.

A new geopolitical understanding has also been reached over a remarkably short period between Turkey and Iran, based on all these developments, which in turn will also help to consolidate the Idlib Operation. The Russian-Turkish-Iranian Astana process has brought peace to the region. In this – its latest phase – the marginalisation of two the major tools of the Western intelligence agencies in the destabilisation of the region is complete: HTS and the YPG/PKK. So quickly has Turkey been able to effect its establishment of bases across Idlib Province, that it appears that a new operation is being envisaged in Afrin province itself.

Pushed into reacting to Astana by the US and its allies, Taḥrīr al-Shām now marginalises itself

Hard on the latest agreements at Astana between Russia, Turkey and Iran on the de-escalation zone Hayʼat Taḥrīr al-Shām (or “Levant Liberation Committee”, ex-Jabhat al-Nusra, ex-Jabhat Fatḥ al-Šām) rejected the deal and  launched an unannounced attack on Assad régime positions yesterday in the Hama environs. Other factions joining the attack included the “Islamic Party of Turkistan” and Jeish al-Ezza or “Army of pride,” Jeish el-Nasr or “Victory Army”, Jeish Idlib al-Hor or “Idlib Free Army” and Al-Firqah al-Wastah or “The centre organisation.”

Taḥrīr al-Shām spokesman Abu Anas al-Shami said that the move was intended to signal to the parties in Astana that they had no weight on the ground, and specifically that they reject Turkey’s plan for the Idlib zone. What seemed to be the overriding consideration driving the attack is a desire by Taḥrīr al-Shām to re-unite all the different remaining jihadi factions behind it, and to give itself credibility by showing-off its military strength.

But frustrated opposition activist Maaz Hamwi in Idlib countered with the observation that “these battles have now proved a total military failure, as the Syrian army and the Russians now return in force with widespread bombing, with the probable aggravation of the further displacement of innocent civilians as a consequence”.

His words were echoed by Russian army spokesmen claiming major hits against Taḥrīr al-Shām’s positions with 850 fighters killed and the destruction of considerable amounts of equipment. Moving against the agreements between Syrian opposition leaders and Turkey, Taḥrīr al-Shām is doomed, despite its backing from the US and its allies (Israel, Saudi and the UAE) intent on undoing the efforts expended at Astana to bring peace.

The announcement of the Turkish peace keeping force which arrived at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing on Thursday night, received an overwhelming vote of confidence from local Syrian residents and their leadership, who are relieved that the overlordship of Taḥrīr al-Shām over Idlib and its environs has now effectively ended.

While the Turkish force is emphasising its peace-keeping role, it plans with Russia to counter aggression from jihadi groups as it occurs. The overwhelming power that the Turkish and Russia militaries present together in that particular area is unlikely to be challenged. The attack on Assad régime forces was only possible due to their perceived weakness, as well as their unpopularity with the residents of North-Western Syria. It is significant that a number of the jihadi fighting groups have now offered to join the Turkish effort, thus undoing in short measure the efforts of CIA-proxy Taḥrīr al-Shām to give itself credibility.

It would appear the previous plan to announce ‘Operation Euphrates Sword’ against YPG Kurdish forces in Afrin by the Turkish military has been cancelled and replaced with a plan to encircle Afrin from the South with Turkish forces and the East with SDF forces, instead. The new plan would appear to achieve Turkish objectives for the time being without further complicating relations with the US.

Astana talks bringing fruit; the US sowing discord (so what’s new?)

4 de-escalation zones have been agreed between Turkey, Iran and Russia, with each country putting troops on the ground to monitor cease-fires in these zones. The most significant agreement, and the one that took longest to negotiate (between Turkey and the opposition)  was over the Idlib zone because of the reluctance of the Syrian opposition to agree to any kind of Iranian presence. But the deal is done and so far scepticism over the durability of Turkish-Iranian  cooperation has been gainsayed as I predicted it would be last February.

The US is, however, attempting to stage a comeback by backing new Kurdish statelets in Syria and Iraq, while the state department makes deceptive statements that merely speak to the department’s policies. It is disingenuous to believe that with all the covert forces in the West opposed to Iran, and such as are opposed to the growing independence of Turkish foreign policy, are not grasping at the opportunity to create new fronts against both states on the basis of the opportunities the various Kurdish factions provide. Israel’s declarations about the KRG referendum indicate that such forces within the US military-industrial complex (and the Gulf area under US influence) are active in this respect.

If successful, those elements will guarantee a new round of severe fighting in the  Middle-East, but that is all it will guarantee, since it is unlikely that such statelets will be economically viable in and of themselves, irrespective of the funding they receive, without support of their neighbours. If they are perceived as Israeli, Saudi, or Emirati proxies, then that will definitely be lacking.

From the Pit of Hell, Assad’s Cerberus snarls at the dispossessed and displaced

Merve Şebnem Oruç reminds us what Assad’s regime is like: Twenty-four-year-old Ahmet, who lives near the Syrian border in the Reyhanlı district of Turkey’s southern city of Hatay, tells the story of one of his close friends, Abdullah. Ahmet says that when Abdullah and he were students in Damascus, Syrian intelligence took Abdullah away in a raid on a mosque when the first mass protests kicked off. That day, intelligence officers gathered people, who were present in the mosque courtyard, by mercilessly bludgeoning their faces.The only thing wrong that Abdullah did that day was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. His family and friends did not hear from him or receive any news about his situation for more than two weeks.

Seventeen days after this unfortunate incident, an appalling phone call came from Abdullah, saying, “I’m completely naked; I’m coming by taxi; can you get me some money to pay for the fare and to buy me some clothes?”

When Abdullah finally arrived at the door of the house where he and Ahmet were staying, his desperate appearance, his dramatic weight loss, broken arms and swollen eyes, showed that he was subject to unspeakable torture. Abdullah later told Ahmed that he was held in a 10 square-meter cell with some 26 others. When I first heard this story, I couldn’t believe it. I had to ask Ahmet “How this could be possible?” A total of 17 days, full of torture, in a very small cell where 27 people had to literally sit on top each other… It is really hard to imagine.

Almost one year later, Abdullah was arrested once again and his mother immediately started going from door to door to find her son. Finally, a regime correspondent told her, “I’ll bring you your son but you have to pay me $50,000 first.” The family sold their entire savings and gave the money. When Abdullah’s mother excitedly arrived at the prison to see her son, the guards threatened her and told her, “You can only see him, you can’t talk to him. If you say even a word, we’ll kill him.” In her meeting with Abdullah, the only thing they shared was tears. Read full article here

UN probe blames Assad for sarin attack on Khan Sheikhun

UN investigators maintain that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons more than two dozen times during the country’s civil war, and that they have solid evidence that a Russian-built plane used by Assad’s air force conducted the sarin-gas attack in this last Spring that killed at least 83 civilians and sparked a retaliatory U.S. strike.

The 6th September report says: ‘The extensive body of information gathered by the Commission indicates that a Syrian Su-22 conducted four airstrikes in Khan Shaykhun at approximately 6.45 a.m. on 4 April. Photographs of remnants taken at the sites along with satellite imagery corroborate eyewitness testimony identifying the impact points of the four aerial bombs. Eyewitnesses and early warning reports identified the aircraft as a Su-22, which only the Syrian air force operates….

‘… The Commission identified three of the bombs as likely OFAB-100-120 and one as a chemical bomb. Interviewees consistently stated that this latter bomb produced less noise and less smoke than the other three, and that it released a gas which spread over a distance between 300 and 600 meters. Photographs of remnants provided to the Commission by interviewees further indicate an aerial chemical bomb was employed. Further, weather conditions at 6.45 a.m. on 4 April were ideal for delivering a chemical weapon. The wind speed was just over three kilometres per hour, with no rain and practically no cloud cover. Under such conditions, the agent cloud would have drifted slowly downhill following the terrain features at the location (roads and open spaces), in a southerly and westerly direction.’

In their 14th report since 2011, U.N. investigators said they had in all documented 33 chemical weapons attacks to date. Twenty seven were by forces of the regime, including seven between March 1 to July 7. Perpetrators in six other and earlier attacks have not yet been pinpointed. The U.N. investigators interviewed 43 witnesses, victims, and first responders linked to the attack. Satellite imagery, photos of bomb remnants and early warning reports were used.

At the time of the Khan Sheikhun attack I reported that Assad was undoubtedly responsible, and that media reports led by Seymour Hersh and promulgated by such as Robert Parry and David Morrison were completely mistaken. These reports fed off false information spun by a campaign by Western intelligence services, helped by the strong voice of the Kurdish diaspora within alternative media, to discredit Turkey, which also took place during the Ghouta attacks.

The journalists of the alternative media themselves are motivated by antagonism to US imperial adventures, and this is possibly a factor clouding their judgement in this particular case.

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