Saleh Pays Tribute to the Victims of Deir Ezzor Massacre on its Second Anniversary

On the second anniversary of Deir Ezzor massacre, Khalid Saleh, head of the Media Office, said that the massacre that took place in the city represents a landmark in the course of the revolution in Deir Ezzor, one of the cities that has lead the way in the struggle against the Assad regime. On this day two years ago, Assad’s warplanes bombed the civil registry office in the city, killing 40 members of the FSA, the Shariah Committee, media activists and journalists who were holding a meeting in the office building to in addition to look after the daily needs of civilians and to unify the rebel battalions under one banner. On that also regime forces stormed the district of Al Joura and summarily executed more than 350 civilians, including women and children. “These horrific massacres committed by Assad criminal thugs will not succeed in subduing the popular uprising in the city; quite the contrary, they have bolstered the insistence of the revolutionaries to topple the Assad regime and build a state of freedom, justice and law,” Saleh said. He concluded his remarks pointing out that “this massacre is not only in Syria, as the Assad regime has committed hundreds of similar and even more atrocious massacres buoyed by the inaction of the international community that has so far failed to hold Assad to account for wholesale butchering of the Syrian people.”

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 26.09.2014)

UAE’s 1st female fighter pilot carried out strikes

In this June 13, 2013 photo provided by the Emirates News Agency, WAM, sMaj. Mariam al-Mansouri, the first Emirati female fighter jet pilot prepare to take off, in United Arab Emirates. A senior United Arab Emirates diplomat says the Gulf federation’s first female air force pilot helped carry out airstrikes against Islamic State militants earlier this week. The Emirati embassy in Washington said on its official Twitter feed Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014 that Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba confirmed the F-16 pilot’s role. Rumors had swirled on social media that Maj. Mariam al-Mansouri was involved in the strikes, but Emirati officials had not previously confirmed that was the case.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The first female air force pilot in the United Arab Emirates led airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria earlier this week, the federation’s ambassador to Washington said on Thursday as he pledged his country will do “whatever is necessary” to defeat the militant group.

Social media has been buzzing with rumors that F-16 pilot Maj. Mariam al-Mansouri played a part in attacks against the jihadist group, with many users taking delight in the rebuke it implied toward the militants’ ultraconservative ideology.

Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba’s comments were the first public confirmation of her role.

“She is a fully qualified, highly trained, combat-ready pilot, and she led the mission,” al-Otaiba said during an appearance on American cable channel MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” The Emirati embassy quickly posted word of the diplomat’s confirmation on its official Twitter feed.

The Emirates, a seven-state federation that includes the capital of Abu Dhabi and the Mideast commercial hub of Dubai, is one of five Arab countries that have joined the U.S.-led coalition carrying out the airstrikes in Syria. It is a major buyer of American-made weapons, with an arsenal that includes F-16 fighter planes and Apache attack helicopters.

Al-Mansouri was born in Abu Dhabi and graduated from the country’s Khalifa bin Zayed Air College in 2007, according to a profile earlier this year in the government-owned newspaper The National. She is one of eight children and has a degree in English literature.

“Sorry #ISIS, I know this too much and so harsh but it’s real,” taunted Twitter user @kafrev, which purports to represent an opposition-held town in Syria, using an alternate name for the Islamic State group. “A woman bombed you!”

Emirati leaders have taken steps to raise the status of women in the oil-rich country, which has modernized rapidly since its formation in 1971 and is now home to a cosmopolitan blend of foreign businesspeople, expatriate professionals and low-paid migrant workers who together far outnumber the local population.

While traditional values remain strong and men dominate government posts, Emirati women have served as government ministers, police officers and executives in state-linked companies.

Al-Otaiba linked al-Mansouri’s role to the campaign to defeat the Islamic State group.

“Do you want a model or a society that allows women to become ministers in government, female fighter pilots, business executives, artists? Or do you want a society where if a woman doesn’t cover up in public she’s beaten or she’s lashed or she’s raped? This is ultimately what this breaks down to,” he said.

It is important that moderate Arab and Muslim nations take a stand against the Islamic State militants, al-Otaiba said, describing the group as “a threat to our way of life.”

“We will bring whatever is necessary to defeat ISIS,” he added.

(Source / 25.09.2014)

Assad has good reason to be happy

For the time being, Assad and Iran seem to be getting everything they wanted out of the US-led intervention in Syria

A flag showing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad flutters near damaged buildings in Adra northeast of the capital Damascus on September 25, 2014 (LOUAI BESHARA/AFP)

Assad’s goal is to purchase insurance on his continued legitimacy and survival

In other words, Assad’s closest ally — Iran — let its most senior Al-Qaeda operative out of the country so that he could travel to Syria, where he’d already been dispatching jihadists and money for years. One of his associates, Abu Rama, was captured by Assad’s mukhabarat, whereupon he conveniently disclosed that Fadhli was seeking to carry out spectacular attacks against Western targets.”

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly yesterday, President Obama painted a gruesome picture of what was now taking place in the Middle East. “Mothers, sisters and daughters have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war,” he said. “Innocent children have been gunned down. Bodies have been dumped in mass graves. Religious minorities have been starved to death. In the most horrific crimes imaginable, innocent human beings have been beheaded, with videos of the atrocity distributed to shock the conscience of the world.”

He was referring to the more recent depredations of the Islamic State (ISIS), which, fewer than 72 hours prior, the United States, backed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan and Qatar, began bombing in four provinces in Syria, dropping a greater collective payload in the first 24 hours than has been dropped on Iraq in the last six weeks. The president left no doubt as to how ISIS must be confronted. Its militants, he said, had “terrorized all who they come across in Iraq and Syria” and therefore “must be degraded, and ultimately destroyed.” Even inveterate critics of his foreign policy gave him high marks for what they saw as the overdue emergence of Churchillian leadership, or at least the oratory preceding it. Here was a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, ever wary of exercising American military power abroad, corralling Sunni-led nations and their F-16s into urgent American-led action.

However, it remains a disconcerting fact of this speech, and indeed of the enormous blind-spot in Obama’s so-called strategy for the Middle East, that every atrocity he listed for ISIS has also been committed by either the regime of Bashar al-Assad or by the consortium of Shiite militias operating in Syria and Iraq, under the tutelage and patronage of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. Not a sentence or paragraph was reserved for them, apart from a fleeting reference to the “brutality” of the regime. Terrorism is no longer state-sponsored, you see, and apart from the president’s noble claims about the humanistic principles of all faiths and there being no “clash of civilizations,” it only ever comes from one sect of Islam.

The contrast is made even starker if one re-reads Obama’s 2013 General Assembly speech. Almost a year ago to the day, the president was in New York to rise to a different geopolitical occasion, from which he clearly, almost visibly, preferred to shrink: the lethal gassing of 1,500 people by Assad in a capital city. Note the rhetorical downiness with which he dealt with that event:

“Now, the crisis in Syria, and the destabilization of the region, goes to the heart of broader challenges that the international community must now confront. How should we respond to conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa — conflicts between countries, but also conflicts within them? How do we address the choice of standing callously by while children are subjected to nerve gas, or embroiling ourselves in someone else’s civil war? What is the role of force in resolving disputes that threaten the stability of the region and undermine all basic standards of civilized conduct?”

Dropping sarin gas on children was a “crisis” that was further “de-stabilizing” the region, a “challenge.” Getting involved in Syria amounted to interfering in “someone else’s civil war.” Assad had not “terrorized” all he came across. Forget about degrading and destroying his regime; force could only be rendered as a philosophical quandary. To use or not to use — that was the question, and it was one ultimately decided for Obama in the negative by Vladimir Putin and a deeply ambivalent US Congress.

The president’s priorities have not really changed, although it’s become easier to believe that they have now that the United States has got itself embroiled in someone else’s civil war, after all. It’s four days into what will be a long conflict, orchestrated by a famously war-averse president, and already we know quite a lot about what America intends for Syria.

First, somewhat undercutting Obama’s claim that the Syrian opposition was one of his “partners,” it was revealed that there was no coordination between the United States and the Free Syrian Army or the Syrian National Coalition, both of which were only informed about the impending attacks on ISIS over the weekend. The Daily Beast noted that US-trained and -armed rebels were “not given specific information that would have allowed them to capitalize on the strikes by moving into areas where [ISIS] was hit.” McClatchy added that “rebel commanders said they’d played no role in selecting the targets or planning for the aftermath.” As partners, they were spectators to decision-making that didn’t concern them.

The opposition’s expectation, as ever, is that this will all change as time goes on, and as the United States gets more deeply involved in Syria. Hadi al-Bahra, the Coalition president, who was enlisted to ask for intervention just as ISIS was setting upon the Kurds of Kobani, once again put forth his recommendation of a no-fly zone. Ankara, which recently secured the release of 49 Turkish hostages from ISIS’s grip, — possibly following a swap for ISIS prisoners held by the Aleppo-based rebel group Liwa al-Tawhid — seems hesitant to join in any military campaign in Syria that fails to treats the cancer of the regime. Whatever happens, it may not be until 2016, just in time for Obama’s final Turtle Bay performance, to see the United States returning the FSA’s phone calls. That’s how long it will take before the 5,000-strong rebel contingent the Pentagon is preparing to train and arm is ready to deploy to Syria on a strictly counterterrorism basis. When asked by Senator John McCain last week if these rebels should also be expected to do battle with the regime and its ancillaries, as is their raison de guerre, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: “We do not have to deal with it now.” A year is a long way off, and the priority, as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel put it, is ISIS.

As to another pressing question of Obama’s grand plan, namely whether US warplanes ever intend to protect this $500 million proxy army from its greatest annihilating threat — regime bombardment — well, that’s still up in the air, too, and not in the way it needs to be. According to Foreign Policy, “The United States may provide vital air support and cover” for the rebels “but it’s unclear how closely that operation will be dictated by the White House.” Actually, it’s a lot clearer once you consider that air cover would likely entail hitting regime air defense systems and possibly a few Syrian jets or helicopters that got in the way of F-18s and F-22s. Here, the Wall Street Journal offers more definitive insight: “U.S. officials say the administration has no intention of bombing Mr. Assad’s forces.”

Was the United States coordinating its bombardment with the regime? That depends on your definition of “coordinating.” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki was adamant on Tuesday that her government “did not request the regime’s permission”, “did not provide advance notification to the Syrians at a military level” and “did not coordinate our actions with the Syrian government.” But it appears that US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power did pay a courtesy call on her Syrian counterpart Bashar Jaafari on Monday, telling him, however vaguely, that attacks were imminent and not to interfere. (In fairness, the Israelis did the same thing before they bombed Al-Kibar in 2007, offering Assad the choice between losing his covert nuclear program or his state in one night.)

Message accepted. After some initial hemming and hawing about “sovereignty” and acts of “aggression,” Assad professed himself quite pleased with how Obama’s strategy is being implemented.

Syria’s Minister for National Reconciliation, Ali Haidar, told Reuters on Wednesday: “I say that what has happened so far is proceeding in the right direction in terms of informing the Syrian government and by not targeting Syrian military installations and not targeting civilians.” “Right direction” is the exact phrase Jaafari used to characterize Obama’s “good” General Assembly speech, the only hiccups of which, the envoy noted, was all that nonsense about training Syrian rebels and working with the true terrorist states of the Gulf. However, Jaafari didn’t seem overly concerned with those bits.

While it may be true that US Central Command is not ringing up Syria’s Air Force every time it dispatches aircraft into Raqqa or Deir Ezzor, it remains the case that shortly following the first airstrikes, Iraq’s National Security Advisor Faleh al-Fayyad met with Assad to discuss the multinational strategy to contain ISIS. US diplomats and military and intelligence personnel share the details of their war-plans with Iraqi counterparts, who pass on those details to their Iranian and Syrian colleagues. As Foreign Policy observed, US officials “privately […] concede that they are coordinating airstrikes with Iranian militias by using Iraqi security forces as intermediaries.” Many of those militias operated, and continue to operate, in both Syria and Iraq. Not surprisingly, then, Assad told Fayyad: “Syria supports any international counterterrorism effort.”

The bonhomie and smiles coming from once-defiant Baathists this week invites the question of whether or not the United States is actively helping its putative adversary, a mass murdering dictator whom Obama asked to “step aside” in 2011 and whom he still hopes a “political solution” will coax gently into the night once ISIS is no more. “I wouldn’t characterize the effects we had last night as benefiting Assad,” Lt. Gen. William Mayville, the director of operations for the Joint Staff, said at a news briefing. Unfortunately, the Syrian rebels characterize it exactly that way.

Dani al-Qappani, an FSA spokesman in Moadamiyah, a district of Damascus which had first been hit with sarin gas last summer and was then subjected to a months-long terror-famine, told me: “I don’t approve of these airstrikes if they only target ISIS. The criminal Assad army has been slaughtering us for more than three years, which means a long time before ISIS slaughtered the US journalists [James Foley and Steven Sotloff].” Al-Qappani added that in the absence of any attacks on the regime, “the Syrian people may again begin to sympathize with ISIS.” Harakat al-Hazm, a rebel group to which the CIA has allowed the passage of about 20 TOW anti-tank missiles, and which had previously been told to support strikes on ISIS if it knew what was good for it, suddenly sounded very anxious on social media Monday night. Airstrikes constituted “an attack on national sovereignty that undermines the Syrian revolution,” the brigade posted to Twitter. “The sole beneficiary of this foreign interference in Syria is the Assad regime, especially in the absence of any real strategy to topple him.” (Former US Ambassador to Syria Fred Hof agrees with at least the latter assessment.)

Moreover, Syrians who had been prepared to risk whatever they had left for US intervention now think they made a terrible mistake. NOW’s Fidaa Itani noted that the dozen civilians killed (so far) in the coalition airstrikes are deemed lives wasted. “If the raids had targeted the regime and a large number people had been killed by mistake, we would have said they were a sacrifice for our salvation,” Itani quoted one rebel. Incidentally, the 12 innocents killed — among them five women and five children, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights — were not even sacrificed in the declared war on ISIS but in the unannounced, by-the-way war waged on Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

Was hitting Nusra and ISIS simultaneously a tactical necessity or strategic folly?  Lately the group, whose thunder has been stolen internationally by ISIS, has been acting rather strangely. It asked the United Nations, for instance, to de-list it as a terrorist organization in exchange for releasing UN personnel it captured in late August in the Golan Heights. A Nusra higher-up even told BuzzFeed that the organization was never spoiling for a fight with America but that now America would get one. However disingenuous or risible such claims are, coming from a branch of Al-Qaeda, the more immediate trouble for Washington is that Syrians, including those not ideologically oriented toward Salafi-jihadism in any way, are now rallying behind this “common enemy” of the regime. Nusra rank-and-file, meanwhile, are exchanging messages of solidarity and hopes for rapprochement with members of ISIS, whom they’d been killing alongside mainstream rebels since January.

A merger between Nusra and ISIS would not only alter the nature of America’s air war, expanding strike sites into Daraa and elsewhere, but it would also affect the viability of its imminent ground war. Inter-rebel dynamics would no doubt deteriorate even further; local populations would turn against those seen to be hirelings or agents of Western intelligence services, and through them, the regime. (Anticipation of this outcome seemed to be the catalyst for Harakat al-Hazm’s condemnation of the airstrikes.) Furthermore, the $500 million arm-and-train policy would now have its cost really put to the test since those 5,000 FSA militants would be asked to fight two formidable jihadist movements at once.

To confuse matters further, the White House’s justification for hitting Nusra was that it was actually hitting someone else entirely, the semi-autonomous cell within the Al-Qaeda franchise known as the Khorasan Group. As US intelligence has been telegraphing for a week via various media outlets, the Khorasan Group was planning a major terrorist attack against American targets and represented a more significant national security threat than ISIS. The Obama administration said that the Group may have been looking to blow up a commercial airliner with bombs made out of toothpaste tubes or clothes. Unfortunately, the schemers “went dark” just as the spooks were closing in on them; so they had to be powdered swiftly.

These ex-post facto disclosures about an “imminent” attack has prompted some healthy skepticism. A senior Senate aide told BuzzFeed: “I think the [US government] is blowing them [Khorasan] way out of proportion. They need a good story right now and saying they subverted a terrorist plot against America is good press.” Antiwar types and pro-war cynics wonder if the Group wasn’t perhaps bundled into the list of Syrian targets in order to bolster a flimsy legal case for going to war against ISIS since the US can globally target Al-Qaeda, which split from ISIS earlier this year, under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.

In the media’s rush to discover who and what the Khorasan Group is, and to determine just how exigent this airliner bomb plot really was, a few crucial details have been hurried passed, if not altogether buried.

The first came from the Associated Press, which reported that US intelligence had been watching the Group in Syria “for years. But Obama had resisted taking military action in Syria to avoid inadvertently helping President Bashar Assad, a leader the U.S. would like to see gone.” Does that mean that the United States is now inadvertently helping him? Also, how did the Khorasan Group get to Syria “years” ago?

Its leader, who may or may not have been killed in one of the airstrikes already, is 33-year-old Muhsin al-Fadhli, a Kuwaiti national. According to one security source cited by CNN, he arrived in Syria in April 2013 (presumably joining other pre-placed assets if this claim matches up with AP’s reporting) and embedded immediately with Nusra. But then Fadhli fell out with the Syrian affiliate owing to its perception of him as an agent of Iran. Fadhli was indeed Al-Qaeda’s most senior operative stationed in the Islamic Republic, which harbored him — excuse me, held him under “house arrest” — for several years following his disappearance in the mid-2000s from Kuwait, where he’d planned terrorist operations against the American garrison there. He was also a “major facilitator,” according to the US government, for Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the forerunner of ISIS, and its notorious leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In 2005, George W. Bush singled Fadhli out by name in a speech about the continuing menace of Al-Qaeda.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a terrorism analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told me: “As to how Fadhli got into Syria: Iran seems to have simply let it happen. As the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism in 2014 noted, Fadhli was able to ‘operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran’ during his time in Iran.”

So how did US officials first learn of Fadhli’s whereabouts or his reorientation away from targeting US servicemen in the Middle East to cooking up “external operations,” as CNN’s unnamed security source called it? His new mission in life, that source alleged, was “revealed by one of his bodyguards, named as Abu Rama, who was recently arrested by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

In other words, Assad’s closest ally — Iran — let its most senior Al-Qaeda operative out of the country so that he could travel to Syria, where he’d already been dispatching jihadists and money for years. One of his associates, Abu Rama, was captured by Assad’s mukhabarat, whereupon he conveniently disclosed that Fadhli was seeking to carry out spectacular attacks against Western targets. One wonders if US officials came by the same information independently, through, say, intercepts of communications between Waziristan and Idlib, or if Abu Rama’s intelligence was shared or coordinated between the Assad regime and those officials through an intermediary such as the Iraqi Security Forces or a European country’s spy service? Finally, how did themukhabarat “recently” capture Abu Rama?

These are questions that might be put to the White House in the coming days. For now, though, Assad has good reason to be happy. The United States hasn’t got any serious quarrel with him or his security guarantor, the IRGC, both of which it appears eager to reassure, even as they appear to be up to their old tricks of moving terrorist networks into Arab countries, only to then wind up those networks in order leverage sensitive intelligence with Washington. In Assad’s case, the goal is to purchase insurance on his continued legitimacy and survival. In Iran’s, well, this doesn’t require much speculation at all. Just listen to Hassan Rouhani: “Without a doubt, reaching a final nuclear deal will expand our cooperation, and we can cooperate in various fields including restoring regional peace and stability and fighting against terrorism,” the cuddly, smiling reformist Iranian president said in New York on Tuesday. “America cannot deny Iran’s role in the fight against terrorism.”

(Source / 25.09.2014)

EXCLUSIVE: Shaikh Hassan Abboud’s final interview

Shaikh Hassan Abboud

Shaikh Hassan Abboud

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

“ISIS has been trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard,” claims late Syrian rebel leader.

Just hours before an explosion wiped out the entire leadership of one of the most powerful rebel groups in Syria, the head of Ahrar Al-Sham Brigade spent four hours talking to Yvonne Ridley about his vision for the future. In an amazingly frank interview, this is what he told her.

Shaikh Hassan Abboud was normally upbeat during our conversations, even when visited by the darkest of times in his unrelenting war against Syrian government forces, while trying simultaneously to repel rear-guard attacks by the rogue group ISIS. During several of our discussions he admitted that it was difficult to make military progress because of infighting among the other groups. In addition, the astonishing rise of ISIS had caught almost everyone by surprise.

In our last conversation I noticed that he was more than optimistic, he was almost ebullient as he revealed how a key unity deal was being formulated among most of the rebel fighting groups on the ground in Syria. Only a handful were excluding themselves; ISIS was one of them.

To the frustration of many, the fight to bring down the brutal dictator Bashar Al-Assad has been thwarted constantly because of in-fighting among the rebels. At times they turned against each other when they should have been focused on overthrowing the Syrian regime. As a result, Assad was mired in a war he could not win while fighting an enemy that could not bring him down; both sides were deeply-entrenched, leaving ordinary Syrians as the biggest losers.

However, this time was going to be different, said Abboud; change was coming. He revealed that a loose coalition was about to be formed which would bring peace and unity among the majority of rebel fighting groups. The name of the coalition had not yet been formulated but would almost certainly include the words Supreme Council; it drew an ironic and uncharacteristic chuckle from the Shaikh when I suggested that it sounded very Iranian.

I asked him how this deal had been achieved after so many failed attempts. Through concessions and consensus, he replied. “We have had to focus on the things that unite us and accept each other’s differences. We realised that we cannot change each other’s principles and priorities but by focusing on the fundamental aims of each group we have been able to come together.”

Without strategic change, he continued, neither the rebels nor Assad can win the war. “There are some foreign sides that want to exclude the Islamists from the rebel factions but jihad is something practiced by all of us and not just the elite.”

Shaikh Abboud stressed that the factions are working towards achieving a harmonious council that gathers as many groups together as possible. “Quite simply, we need to unify and have the same agenda.” Failure to do this will mean that the regime cannot be toppled. “This is the real message of jihad,” he insisted, “not the one being promoted by ISIS.” There is no room for self-secluded groups, added Abboud. “We have developed an initiative to reach this goal and many groups have already declared their approval. The problem is for those groups who have foreign fighters because they have a phobia about being organised locally.”

What about the Syrian National Coalition? “We still don’t approve or have the confidence of the SNC because it is supervised by a bunch of states which have their own agenda that does not serve the interests of the Syrian people.”

According to Abboud, a group of the factions will be holding a preparatory meeting to form a revolutionary council where they will focus on mutual goals and set aside, “for the time being”, those goals which cannot be agreed upon.

When I made my recent offer to ISIS to swap places with one of their Western hostages, Abboud called me to try to dissuade me. The leader of Ahrar Al-Sham Brigade told me: “They will kill you, without any doubt. The Islamic context of your offer will be ignored and if you travel to the region we will do everything in our power to prevent you, even if we have to kidnap you ourselves.” He was deadly serious, but I seized the opportunity to ask him for his thoughts on ISIS. Where did it spring from, and what are its intentions?

He provided me with several hours of in-depth analysis, with some startling accusations thrown in, which included his claims that ISIS is:

  • Not Islamic;
  • Supported directly or indirectly by the Assad regime;
  • Trained by the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards;
  • Using Islam as a Trojan horse; and
  • Conceived and funded by supporters of Assad.

Had these comments come from anyone else I would have dismissed them as a bit of hyperbole in a war where words are used as much as weapons to inflict maximum damage. However, in the few months that I’d come to know Abboud, who was also known as Abu Abdullah Al-Hamawi, he didn’t strike me as the sort of man to indulge in wild speculation or deliberately misleading propaganda.

Our very first conversation had been about ISIS and he reminded me of it. “I told you then that ISIS does not represent Islam and its behaviour makes us all very sceptical because of the way it operates. There is something hidden from the rest of the world but for us fighting on the ground we know you cannot emerge and grow and develop without entering into a conflict with the Assad regime.”

The Syrian government, he pointed out, has targeted many rebel groups but it seems that ISIS has not engaged in any frontline fighting with Assad nor has it ever been targeted by the president.

“For instance, even if there are three cars travelling in the countryside Assad’s air force will strike them in the belief that it must be a convoy. Now you tell me, when movement is coming under such intense scrutiny how was ISIS able to move a convoy of 200 vehicles from one province to another and finally into Iraq without coming under one single attack or meeting resistance at any regime checkpoints?”

Indeed, as ISIS emerged in Syria, its forces attacked other rebel groups and as soon as areas were taken under its control a new administration would be introduced, including sharia courts, said Abboud.

“They refused to enter into any deals with other rebel groups,” he explained, “and because they weren’t engaged in fighting Assad’s forces they also appeared to spend a great deal of leisure time with limitless resources and funds.”

The group changed its strategy as ISIS developed, he said. It entered a new phase in the northern countryside around Aleppo and the coastal areas where ISIS tried to control strategic border towns around Idlib. “ISIS tried to smother the gateways used by Syrian revolutionaries.”

Tensions reached a new high in January this year when ISIS kidnapped, tortured and killed Dr Hussein Al-Suleiman, who was a senior commander under Abboud. A gruesome photograph was circulated on the social media networks. “They disfigured his body in such a way that has not been witnessed outside of Assad’s prisons. Ordinary Syrian people had seen nothing like this before. Those who held him and tortured him did some shocking things to him.”

Abboud’s group demanded that ISIS hand over those responsible for the torture and murder of Dr Al-Suleiman (Abu Rayyan) by pointing out that Shari’ah Committees had already been established in rebel-held areas to handle local disputes. The killing of Abu Rayyan was a turning point for Abboud who has, until now, restrained himself from criticizing ISIS publicly. In our interview, though, he unleashed his anger, regret and outrage over the group’s actions.

At the time of Abu Rayyan’s murder the mainstream opposition-in-exile, the Syrian National Coalition, also condemned the crime strongly and accused ISIS of being in league with the Syrian regime of President Assad.

“The coalition believes that ISIS is linked closely to the terrorist regime and serves the interests of the clique of President Bashar Assad, directly or indirectly. The murder of Syrians by this group [ISIS] leaves no doubt about the intentions behind its creation, its objectives and the agendas it serves, which are confirmed by the nature of its terrorist actions hostile to the Syrian revolution,” said the SNC statement.

According to Abboud, the accusation that ISIS was working with Assad was not beyond the realms of possibility. “Ask yourself who benefits from ISIS. Assad has never engaged his forces against it and it’s never fought on the frontlines against Syrian government forces.”

He believes that the real Trojan horse is religion and the way that Islam is being abused by ISIS. “It has used Islam to sneak inside Syrian society but once we saw their behaviour nothing can convince us that they have the right ideology or the right practice. After the killing of Abu Rayyan there was a counter-revolution against ISIS that was launched by all manner of rebel groups and ordinary Muslims. ISIS then used the media to spread rumours about foreign rebel fighters raping Syrian women and started to target and brainwash teenagers to join the group and its ideology.”

Apparently when its fighters captured a number of foreigners the intention of ISIS was not to slaughter or behead them but to use them as hostages to make money. “They even took Turkish diplomats in Mosul and there are talks going on now for a prisoner exchange.” (The Turkish hostages have just been released, unharmed.)

“The beheading of people is a distinctive procedure used against the rebels and we’ve had hundreds of such incidents but only now is it being denounced by the UN Security Council because the latest killings involve westerners,” said Abboud, who believes that the ISIS revolution in Iraq was nothing short of “astonishing” and made him question the lack of resistance put up by Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s forces. “He lost control because the army has no military ideology,” he claimed.

In conceding that the ISIS invasion and occupation of huge swathes of Iraq was nothing short of “military brilliance”, Abboud made perhaps the most shocking of his accusations.

“I think it was all worked out and devised by Qasem Soleimani, the former head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. He is the one person who could have pulled all of this together. He wasn’t able to stop the revolution in Syria but when ISIS arrived everything stopped and there was a turning point.”

This is an accusation which will cause equal measures of outrage in the Shia and Sunni worlds but Soleimani’s brilliance as a military strategist is heralded in both East and West. Towards the end of 2012 he led the Iranian intervention in the Syrian war as concern increased over the Assad regime’s lack of ability to fight the opposition. With a base in Damascus he is co-ordinating the Lebanese Hezbollah, Iraqi Shiite militia and Iranian forces.

Abboud was insistent that only Soleimani could have devised such a military venture and said that this would explain why Al-Maliki’s forces fell away without resistance when ISIS stormed into Iraq seizing territory on a scale and speed unimaginable to the former US occupiers. The leader of Ahrar Al-Sham added that the blame for the emergence and success of ISIS also lay with some of the Gulf states; its initial funding, he claimed, is thought to have come from the United Arab Emirates.

“We know that Jabhat Al-Nusra is funded from the Gulf but, before they took the oil and gas fields, ISIS was spending big money on the weapons markets. They would pay whatever price was being asked for weapons and didn’t even both to negotiate. They had vast amounts of money to spend.”

ISIS even has a scud missile in its arsenal, alleged Abboud. “The leaders show it to other rebel groups when trying to persuade them to join ISIS. I’m not sure where they got the scud from but they don’t have the technology or equipment to fire it, it is there purely for display purposes.”

Abboud acknowledged that there are many questions unanswered over ISIS. “Nevertheless, I do know that there is a real relationship between ISIS and the Syrian regime. And at the moment one cannot exist without helping the other. A monster has been created but this ISIS has many fathers.”

I was looking forward to more detailed analysis but, sadly, Shaikh Hassan Abboud was never to see his opposition unity coalition realised. Hours after our final discussion he was dead along with dozens of other commanders who were killed in a massive explosion at a meeting house in Idlib on 9 September. While conspiracy theories abound over the cause of the explosion one thing is for sure, in terms of timing this was the worst possible scenario. Abboud was on the cusp of delivering a peace formula among the rebel groups which could have changed the course of the war.

His legacy is now in the hands of a new commander who has taken control of at least 20,000 fighters who form the main force in the Islamic Front alliance, which was created to counter ISIS, as well as to fight the troops still loyal to Bashar Al-Assad.

Ahrar Al-Sham seeks to have a state run on Islamic principles, which protects the rights of women and religious and ethnic minorities. It disagrees profoundly with the approach taken by ISIS. Abboud’s untimely death came as the US government is seeking to unify the Syrian opposition and pull together its own loose coalition to act against the rogue “Islamic State”.

I’m really not sure if Abboud would have signed up to the US venture as he was highly critical of what he called the “double standards” of the West. His ultimate goal was to establish Islamic rule, not democracy, in Syria and that would be at odds not only with the democratic West but also with the leaders of other regimes in the region.

After reading through my notes I sent a text message to Shaikh Abboud and asked him if he was sure that I could use his interview in full. The next morning a message was waiting for me in response: “You can attribute my analysis to me. I declare it.”

It remains to be seen if his vision and legacy will live on.

(Source / 25.09.2014)

International coalition doing Assad’s work for him by ‘degrading and destroying’ the Islamic State

An IS member in Raqqa, Syria, waves a flag in June.

An IS member in Raqqa, Syria, waves a flag in June.

In May of this year, IS, until then just one of a myriad of extremist Islamist groups fighting against the government of President Assad in Syria, burst onto the global stage and into the consciousness of Western leaders.

In a stunning offensive they allied with disaffected Sunni tribes and former Baathist officers and took Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul.

Their offensive and ideology swept through the deeply resentful Sunni minority of Iraq who had felt politically disenfranchised by the Shia-dominated government of President Maliki.

A fighter of the Islamic State holds a flag and weapon on a street in Mosul.

A fighter of the Islamic State holds a flag and weapon on a street in Mosul. 

In the face of their rapid and seemingly unstoppable offensive, the Iraqi army – trained and funded to the tune of billions of dollars by the US – simply evaporated.

Overnight IS became the best-funded militant Islamist group in the world who were in the process of establishing a mini-state.

The fact that hundreds of British and other Western fighters have flocked to join the ranks of IS, as well as their brutal and extremely violent means of spreading and imposing their ideology, has raised the spectre of some of these young men returning to carry on their campaign back in their home countries.

The militant who seemingly murdered Foley, Sotloff and Haines had a British accent.

The militant who seemingly murdered Foley, Sotloff and Haines had a British accent.

It is this fact which has surely but slowly shifted the primary focus of Western attention in Syria away from the Assad regime to countering IS.

The murder of the US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and the subsequent murder of the British hostage David Haines by a British member of IS cemented the need to take military action against the group.

Briton David Haines was beheaded by IS.

Briton David Haines was beheaded by IS.

And so now we have come full circle, where the US, UK and an international coalition involving Arab nations are now embarking on a sustained campaign of airstrikes.

By “degrading and destroying” IS they are essentially doing President Assad’s work for him. His forces will surely try to move into the spaces where the group has been pushed out of.

And so in a remarkable irony, IS has now, whether directly or indirectly, brought Iran, the US, the UK and the Assad regime into a position where they have the same interests with regard to IS.

(Source / 24.09.2014)

ISIS ‘network of death’ must be destroyed: Obama

‘The United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death,’ Obama said

President Barack Obama told the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday he would build a coalition to dismantle the “network of death” represented in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Obama, who is spearheading the military campaign against the militants in both Iraq and Syria, told world leaders that the “only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.”

“The United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death,” Obama said. “Today I ask the world to join in this effort.”

The U.S. has been joined by a coalition of five Arab nations – Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar – in its fight against the militant group which is in control of large stretches of territory in Syria and Iraq.

Obama warned those who have joined ISIS to “leave the battlefield while they can.”

Later in the day, Obama chaired a United Nations Security Council session debating the threat of terrorism and foreign fighters. It adopted the resolution which demands strong national laws to stop the flow of foreign extremist fighters to conflicts around the world

Iran

In his speach to the General Assembly, Obama urged the Islamic Republic of Iran not to waste the “historic opportunity” at reaching a deal over its nuclear program.

“My message to Iran’s leaders and people is simple: do not let this opportunity pass,” the U.S. leader said.

(Source / 24.09.2014)

Qatar, a partner in U.S. airstrikes, says Syrian regime main problem

(Reuters) – Qatar, which provided support for U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria this week, urged the international community to confront the Syrian regime, highlighting pressure by some of Washington’s Gulf Arab allies to widen its campaign against Islamic State.

Qatar is among five Arab nations including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Bahrain that joined in or supported U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria beginning late on Monday. U.S. officials said Qatar’s role consisted mostly of logistical support.

“The war of genocide being waged and the deliberate displacement carried out by the regime remain the major crime,” Qatar’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, told theUnited Nations General Assembly in New York.

The world should work to end “the systematic destruction of Syria” by the Syrian government, he said.

The United States has said its military campaign will not target the Syrian government and instead will focus on the Islamic State, which has seized a third of both Iraq and Syria and seeks to establish a caliphate in the Middle East.

Appearing to echo concerns that the Syrian government could benefit from the U.S.-led airstrikes, the emir said, “we cannot succeed in the war on terrorism if the people were not satisfied that it is their war and not a war to stabilize a regime that is oppressing them.”

Although the Gulf states are all opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Qatar has long faced criticism, including from neighboring Gulf Arab states, for using its vast oil and gas wealth to back Islamists across the region including groups inside Syria.

Qatar assured the West on Wednesday it was not aiding Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

A source close to the Qatar government told Reuters Tuesday’s U.S.-led airstrikes would not solve anything. He said it was unfair to target only Islamic State when Assad “has been left to kill his people for years.”

(Source / 24.09.2014)

8 civilians, incl. 3 kids, killed in US-led strikes on Syria – monitor

People inspect a shop damaged after what Islamist State militants say was a U.S. drone crashed into a communication station nearby in Raqqa September 23, 2014. (Reuters/Stringer)

People inspect a shop damaged after what Islamist State militants say was a U.S. drone crashed into a communication station nearby in Raqqa September 23, 2014

Eight civilians, three of them children, have been killed in the US-led air strikes on Al-Qaeda Nusra front positions, Reuters reported, citing Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

READ MORE: Anti-ISIS coalition bombing terrorist positions in Syria LIVE UPDATES

ISIS-controlled places (Google Maps)

ISIS-controlled places (Google Maps)

Washington carried a series of airstrikes on the city of Raqqa in the early hours of Tuesday. At least 30 militants died in the strikes, which were carried out on IS positions in Syria. Washington informed Damascus about the operation, according to a representative of Syrian Foreign Ministry.

“There is an exodus out of Raqqa as we speak. It started in the early hours of the day after the strikes. People are fleeing towards the countryside,” one local resident told Reuters.

The strikes targeted residential buildings in Aleppo allegedly used by Al-Nusra Front, according to Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The US-led coalition’s targets also included training camps, headquarters and weapon supplies in northern and eastern Syria, with many IS locations “destroyed or damaged” around the cities of Raqqa, Deir al-Zor, Hasakah and the border town of Albu Kamal, Reuters reported.

In particular, “[Islamic State] fighters, training compounds, headquarters and command and control facilities, storage facilities, a finance center, supply trucks and armed vehicles” were hit.

Raqqa (Al-Raqqa) is a city with a population of over 200,000 people, and is strategically located just 40km east of the largest Syrian dam. Raqqa is believed to be the IS headquarters.

(Source / 23.09.2014)

Hariri: The Assad Regime and ISIS are Two Sides of the Same Coin

Nasr al-Hariri, Secretary General of the Syrian Coalition, said that the dialogue focused, during the confluence of the officers Secretary-General of the coalition, that “the UN Security Council’s resolution regarding the ant-ISIS campaign cannot tackle the problem of terrorism as it ignored the terror practiced by the Assad regime against the Syrian people,” during a meeting with Riad al-Asa’ad, leader of the Free Syrian Army and a number of officers. “The Assad regime is the source of terrorism in the region, therefore any anti-terror campaign must include helping the Syrian People topple the Assad regime, and the failure to do so would only aggravate the humanitarian crisis and prolong the conflict in Syria.” Hariri said. The FSA’s officers denounced the UN resolution’s failure to include the terrorist militias of Hezbollah and Abu al Fadl al Abbas, whose sectarian crimes against the Syrian people have given rise to extremism in the region.” Hariri stresses that the world is not yet aware that the battle against terrorism cannot be solved only militarily, but must include an organized political process capable of addressing the root causes of extremism. The meager international support for the Syrian national projects, including the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Coalition, has led to the emergence of other projects that attracted many young people who do not necessarily endorse those projects’ vision. However, we are quite certain that those young people, when provided with the suitable alternative, will be an essential part of the mosaic structure on which the new Syria will be built.”

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 22.09.2014)

Enemy or victim? Syria and West in ISIS era

AFP Photo

Terror is the product of terror, and the cycle of terror that has engulfed Libya, Syria, and now Iraq could have been averted if but for the lack of statesmanship in Washington.

Remember the Arab Spring? That joyous mass revolutionary upsurge which toppled the West’s dictator Ben Ali in Tunisia, followed by their man in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, before being turned into a counter revolutionary and reactionary process courtesy of the West’s intervention in Libya under the auspices of NATO? It now seems a million miles away, the sunshine of hope supplanted by a dark night of barbarism descending on the region like a shroud.

You might think the continuing and unfolding disaster that has engulfed Syria and latterly Iraq – thousands of jihadists with a medieval-type attachment to brutality in service to the objective of turning the region into a graveyard for minorities, both Muslim and non Muslim alike – would give policymakers in the West cause to reflect on the part played by their disastrous intervention in the region over the past decade and more.

You’d be wrong.

Instead, what we are witnessing is yet more evidence of the cognitive dissonance that has underpinned the actions of Washington and its allies when it comes to the Middle East since 9/11. Hard power has succeeded in sowing chaos and carnage while nourishing the roots of radicalism and extremism, from which has sprouted ISIS and various other millenarian Islamic extremist groups in recent years.

U.S. President Barack Obama talks about the vote on Capitol Hill on his request to arm and train Syrian rebels in the fight against the Islamic State while in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, September 18, 2014. (Reuters/Larry Downing)

U.S. President Barack Obama talks about the vote on Capitol Hill on his request to arm and train Syrian rebels in the fight against the Islamic State while in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, September 18, 2014

Imperialism is a disease which in the words of Frantz Fanon, “leaves germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well.”

The Middle East has suffered from this rot over many decades, a state of affairs responsible for the social, political, and economic dislocation of a part of the world that sits on a sea of oil. Western leaders and ideologues have proved time and again that when it comes to trying to exert control over the region, there is no lie they will not tell, no act of hypocrisy they won’t engage in, and no violation of international law they won’t commit. Even so, the eruption of ISIS across Syria’s eastern border and Turkey’s southern border into northern Iraq these past two months has exposed the aforementioned to a degree never witnessed previously.

Panic has been the order of the day in Washington and London and Paris, as men in expensively tailored suits – rich men who carry in their hearts the morals of the gutter – have scrambled to respond to the emergence of a monster created by their own perfidy. It has given rise not to sober reflection, but yet more reactive measures guaranteed to deepen rather than alleviate what is now an enveloping crisis.

It was Nietzsche who wrote that “insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.”

The wisdom in the German philosopher’s words which has been reflected in the messages emanating from the Pentagon and White House in recent days, with talk of airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and the possible redeployment of ground troops in Iraq – without the prior cooperation or permission of either the Syrian or Iraqi governments in either scenario – has come as stark evidence of the madness bordering on insanity which pervades the US political class.

Syria is a nation and a people whose resistance to the forces of barbarism these past three years is resistance that history will record as heroic. This makes it all the more depraved to listen to the blatant violation of Syrian sovereignty being contemplated by the Obama administration and Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron. President Assad’s recent letter to Obama, which called for an alliance to defeat ISIS, was a plea for sanity. A beleaguered but unbowed government, reaching out on behalf of its people to a government whose responsibility for the crisis that has engulfed their country is beyond dispute, is redolent of Carthage reaching out to Rome in a last ditch attempt to forestall its destruction.

Members of jihadist group Al-Nusra Front take part in a parade calling for the establishment of an Islamic state in Syria, at the Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood of Aleppo, on October 25, 2013. (AFP Photo)

Members of jihadist group Al-Nusra Front take part in a parade calling for the establishment of an Islamic state in Syria, at the Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood of Aleppo, on October 25, 2013

Syria is not the enemy of the West; it is a victim of the West, and must be regarded as such.

The colonial attitude towards Syria and the entire region we can trace back to the 1916 Sykes Picot Agreement, probably the most tawdry imperialist lash-up in history, which divided up the Middle East between the Allied powers as the Ottoman Empire approached its collapse as part of the losing side in the First World War. Ever since the West’s orientation towards the Arab world has involved propping up any government willing to do its bidding, while subverting those who dare resist its domination. The human suffering that has resulted as a direct consequence is impossible to quantify, but it has been of biblical magnitude.

If the United States was serious about tackling ISIS in Syria and Iraq, it would be seeking an alliance between both governments, along with the Iranians, in order to do so. Instead, the most powerful nation on earth is behaving like a drunken giant staggering around a China shop, causing mayhem as he goes.

When Barack Obama was elected president of the United States in 2008, he came to power pledging a change in US foreign policy, involving a return to diplomacy and respect for international law. Six years on, the only thing that has changed are the curtains in the White House. They began his presidency spotlessly clean. Now they are covered in blood.

(Source / 20.09.2014)