The global group’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, designated the Nusra Front, another militanti group which has clashed with ISIS, its representative in Syria
Al-Qaeda dismissed as “lies” a U.S. assessment that it is in decline, but a defiant online message issued by the network on Sunday made no mention of the ultra-hardline Islamic State of Iraq and Syria group widely seen as its rival for the leadership of global jihad.
“Whatever slip-ups or errors (regional branches)…may have committed are limited in number in the midst of mountains of good deeds and successes,” said Hossam Abdul Raouf, an Egyptian veteran of the militant group. He said compensation and apologies had been given to unintended victims but gave no
Raouf, who served under assassinated leader Osama Bin Laden, said the group was expanding across the world.
Al-Qaeda faces a challenge to its leadership of the radical Islamist struggle with the West by ISIS, and may be seeking to burnish its credentials as its rival girds for a fight to protect land it has seized in Iraq and Syria.
The United States and Arab neighbors pledged to fight ISIS last week, and American warplanes have pounded its positions in Iraq for over a month.
ISIS’ declaration of a “caliphate,” or religious state over its lands has not been recognized by al-Qaeda, which has produced a series of videos in recent weeks detailing its own activities but shying away from criticizing ISIS.
ISIS released a video on Saturday night showing the beheading of a British hostage.
The U.S. State Department in its annual terrorism report published in April said: “As a result of both ongoing worldwide efforts against the organization and senior leadership losses, AQ core’s leadership has been degraded, limiting its ability to conduct attacks and direct its followers.”
The U.S. has repeatedly killed top al-Qaeda leaders, including Bin Laden, in the group’s haven on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where its leaders live under the protection of local militants to whom they swear allegiance.
Global affiliates of the group, however, have grabbed territory and harassed Western-backed governments in Somalia, Algeria and Yemen – attacking soldiers, bombing government installations and often killing civilians.
“How then can al-Qaeda have shrunken greatly and lost many of its senior leaders at a time when it is expanding horizontally and opening new fronts dependent on it?” Raouf said, although he said these groups had often erred.
Al-Qaeda fell out with ISIS – whose roots lie in Iraq – in 2013 over its expansion into Syria, where the militants have carried out beheadings, crucifixions, and mass executions.
The global group’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, designated the Nusra Front, another militanti group which has clashed with ISIS, its representative in Syria.
Counter-terrorism experts say al-Qaeda’s aging leadership is struggling to compete for recruits with ISIS, which has galvanized young followers, seized advanced weapons from Iraqi and Syrian forces while accruing a vast store of cash.
Hadi el-Bahra, head of the Syrian National Coalition, gestures during a press conference in Abu Dhabi on September 14, 2014Hadi el-Bahra, head of the Syrian National Coalition, gestures during a press conference in Abu Dhabi on September 14, 2014
The head of the main Syrian opposition group in exile said Sunday he expected the support of the international community to press the fight against Damascus and Islamic State jihadists.
The United States is pushing for the formation of a broad international coalition to tackle IS which has captured swathes of Iraq and Syria, and has already secured the backing of 10 Arab states including Saudi Arabia.
“The role of (the) international coalition against terrorism should be very clear,” Hadi el-Bahra, head of the Syrian National Coalition, said at a news conference in Abu Dhabi.
The SNC gathers together various groups seeking the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but has been weakened by divisions despite the support of Western countries and Saudi Arabia.
“We are the Syrians, we are the people in charge,” he said, adding “the international community should support our effort”.
Bahra said the SNC was “100 percent” capable of fighting the IS “with a proper plan which we have put in place and which we ask the international community to support”.
The group would launch two offensives at the same time, “one against the regime and one against IS”, Bahra said.
US President Barack Obama said on Wednesday he had authorised the expansion to Syria of the US air campaign against IS he launched in Iraq in early August.
There have been no US strikes on Syria so far, but Obama’s announcement drew protests from Damascus and its Iranian and Russian allies.
A breakdown of where the foreign fighters in Syria are coming from, via @AFP
Depict estimates in numbers and then add graphics and a lot of people treat the results as though they were the findings of hard science.
What I see lacking in the depiction above is anything more specific than the claim that the men (I’m assuming they are overwhelmingly men) came to Syria and Iraq from the named countries. (There is a curious footnote: “Numbers include fighters who have returned to their home countries.”)
I assume they are all nominal opponents of the Assad regime — although an objective count on foreign fighters should include Lebanese, Iraqis, and Iranians fighting alongside the Syrian government forces.
Also, since this is a depiction of “foreign fighters” in Syria and Iraq, does that imply that Iraqis in Syria and Syrians in Iraq are not counted as foreign?
And what about differentiating between fighters who have joined ISIS and those in other militias?
I expect that the researchers who have been compiling this data would acknowledge that they don’t have enough information to fill in a lot of these details.
Add to this the fact that in the space of a few days, the CIA managed to triple its estimate of the size of ISIS and its clear that what are being called estimates should probably be called wild guesses.
Khalid Saleh, head of the Media Office, said that the progress being made by the Free Syrian Army in the province of Quneitra and the capture of the towns of Rwadi and Hamediya represents a turning point in the course of the Syrian Revolution. The liberation of this strategic province, which links West Ghouta in rural Damascus with Dara’a province, will bring the Free Syrian Army closer to the doorsteps of Damascus, the stronghold of Assad’s elite security apparatuses. Moreover, the FSA’s progress in Quneitra province represents a painful blow to Assad’s thugs and the terrorist foreign militias fighting alongside his forces in West Ghouta. Mohammed Qaddah, vice president of the Syrian Coalition, said that the linkup achieved by rebels in Western Ghouta near Damascus with their comrades in rural Dara’a is an important milestone in the process of organizing the military effort in the areas surrounding the capital, Damascus, the stronghold of the Assad regime. This big achievement will no doubt represent a major blow to regime forces and the sectarian militias fighting alongside them in that area.” Qaddah points out that this strategic victory will allow supplying the Free Syrian Army in Western Ghouta with the much needed weapons and men to push on the heart of Damascus. The FSA’s breaking of the barrier of geography in the periphery of Damascus is a huge leap towards organizing the military effort in the areas that are considered the strongholds of Assad’s most loyal security forces.”
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, right, speaks with US President Barack Obama
Part 1 – OUR TERRORISTS
“This is an organisation that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated,” Gen Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon press conference in August.
Military action is necessary to halt the spread of the ISIS/IS “cancer,” said President Obama. Yesterday, in his much anticipated address, he called for expanded airstrikes across Iraq and Syria, and new measures to arm and train Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces.
“The only way to defeat [IS] is to stand firm and to send a very straightforward message,”declared Prime Minister Cameron. “A country like ours will not be cowed by these barbaric killers.”
Missing from the chorus of outrage, however, has been any acknowledgement of the integral role of covert US and British regional military intelligence strategy in empowering and even directly sponsoring the very same virulent Islamist militants in Iraq, Syria and beyond, that went on to break away from al-Qaeda and form ‘ISIS’, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or now simply, the Islamic State (IS).
Since 2003, Anglo-American power has secretly and openly coordinated direct and indirect support for Islamist terrorist groups linked to al-Qaeda across the Middle East and North Africa. This ill-conceived patchwork geostrategy is a legacy of the persistent influence of neoconservative ideology, motivated by longstanding but often contradictory ambitions to dominate regional oil resources, defend an expansionist Israel, and in pursuit of these, re-draw the map of the Middle East.
Now despite Pentagon denials that there will be boots on the ground – and Obama’s insistence that this would not be another “Iraq war” – local Kurdish military and intelligence sources confirm that US and Germanspecial operations forces are already “on the ground here. They are helping to support us in the attack.” US airstrikes on ISIS positions and arms supplies to the Kurds have also been accompanied by British RAF reconnaissance flights over the region and UK weapons shipments to Kurdish peshmerga forces.
Early during the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, the US covertly supplied arms to al-Qaeda affiliated insurgents even while ostensibly supporting an emerging Shi’a-dominated administration.
Pakistani defense sources interviewed by Asia Times in February 2005 confirmed that insurgents described as “former Ba’ath party” loyalists – who were being recruited and trained by “al-Qaeda in Iraq” under the leadership of the late Abu Musab Zarqawi – were being supplied Pakistan-manufactured weapons by the US. The arms shipments included rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, ammunition, rockets and other light weaponry. These arms “could not be destined for the Iraqi security forces because US arms would be given to them”, a source told Syed Saleem Shahzad – the Times’ Pakistan bureau chief who, “known for his exposes of the Pakistani military” according to the New Yorker, was murdered in 2011. Rather, the US is playing a double-game to “head off” the threat of a “Shi’ite clergy-driven religious movement,” said the Pakistani defense source.
This was not the only way US strategy aided the rise of Zarqawi, a bin Laden mentee and brainchild of the extremist ideology that would later spawn ‘ISIS.’
According to a little-known November report for the US Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) and Strategic Studies Department, Dividing Our Enemies, post-invasion Iraq was “an interesting case study of fanning discontent among enemies, leading to ‘red-against-red’ [enemy-against-enemy] firefights.”
While counterinsurgency on the one hand requires US forces to “ameliorate harsh or deprived living conditions of the indigenous populations” to publicly win local hearts and minds:
“… the reverse side of this coin is one less discussed. It involves no effort to win over those caught in the crossfire of insurgent and counterinsurgent warfare, whether by bullet or broadcast. On the contrary, this underside of the counterinsurgency coin is calculated to exploit or create divisions among adversaries for the purpose of fomenting enemy-on-enemy deadly encounters.”
In other words, US forces will pursue public legitimacy through conventional social welfare while simultaneously delegitimising local enemies by escalating intra-insurgent violence, knowing full-well that doing so will in turn escalate the number of innocent civilians “caught in the crossfire.” The idea is that violence covertly calibrated by US special operations will not only weaken enemies through in-fighting but turn the population against them.
In this case, the ‘enemy’ consisted of jihadists, Ba’athists, and peaceful Sufis, who were in a majority but, like the militants, also opposed the US military presence and therefore needed to be influenced. The JSOU report referred to events in late 2004 in Fallujah where “US psychological warfare (PSYOP) specialists” undertook to “set insurgents battling insurgents.” This involved actually promoting Zarqawi’s ideology, ironically, to defeat it: “The PSYOP warriors crafted programs to exploit Zarqawi’s murderous activities – and to disseminate them through meetings, radio and television broadcasts, handouts, newspaper stories, political cartoons, and posters – thereby diminishing his folk-hero image,” and encouraging the different factions to pick each other off. “By tapping into the Fallujans’ revulsion and antagonism to the Zarqawi jihadis the Joint PSYOP Task Force did its ‘best to foster a rift between Sunni groups.’”
Yet as noted by Dahr Jamail, one of the few unembedded investigative reporters in Iraq after the war, the proliferation of propaganda linking the acceleration of suicide bombings to the persona of Zarqawi was not matched by meaningful evidence. His own search to substantiate the myriad claims attributing the insurgency to Zarqawi beyond anonymous US intelligence sources encountered only an “eerie blankness”.
The US military operation in Fallujah, largely justified on the claim that Zarqawi’s militant forces had occupied the city, used white phosphorous, cluster bombs, and indiscriminate air strikes to pulverise 36,000 of Fallujah’s 50,000 homes, killing nearly a thousand civilians, terrorising 300,000 inhabitants to flee, and culminating in a disproportionate increase in birth defects, cancer and infant mortality due to the devastating environmental consequences of the war.
To this day, Fallujah has suffered from being largely cut-off from wider Iraq, its infrastructure largely unworkable with water and sewage systems still in disrepair, and its citizens subject to sectarian discrimination and persecution by Iraqi government backed Shi’a militia and police. “Thousands of bereaved and homeless Falluja families have a new reason to hate the US and its allies,” observed The Guardian in 2005. Thus, did the US occupation plant the seeds from which Zarqawi’s legacy would coalesce into the Frankenstein monster that calls itself “the Islamic State.”
Bankrolling al-Qaeda in Syria
According to former French foreign minister Roland Dumas, Britain had planned covert action in Syria as early as 2009: “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business,” he told French television: “I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria. This was in Britain not in America. Britain was preparing gunmen to invade Syria.”
Since then, the role of the Gulf states – namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan (as well as NATO member Turkey) – in officially and unofficially financing and coordinating the most virulent elements amongst Syria’s rebels under the tutelage of US military intelligence is no secret. Yet the conventional wisdom is that the funneling of support to Islamist extremists in the rebel movement affiliated to al-Qaeda has been a colossal and regrettable error.
The reality is very different. The empowerment of the Islamist factions within the ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA) was a foregone conclusion of the strategy.
United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) greets Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (L), United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan (2nd L) and British Foreign Minister William Hague, in Tunis.
In its drive to depose Col. Qaddafi in Libya, NATO had previously allied itself with rebels affiliated to the al-Qaeda faction, the Islamic Fighting Group. The resulting Libyan regime backed by the US was in turn liaising with FSA leaders in Istanbul to provide money and heavy weapons for the anti-Assad insurgency. The State Department even hired an al-Qaeda affiliated Libyan militia group to provide security for the US embassy in Benghazi – although they had links with the very people that attacked the embassy.
Last year, CNN confirmed that CIA officials operating secretly out of the Benghazi embassy were being forced to take extra polygraph tests to keep under wraps what US Congressman suspect was a covert operation “to move surface-to-air missiles out of Libya, through Turkey, and into the hands of Syrian rebels.”
With their command and control centre based in Istanbul, Turkey, military supplies from Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular were transported by Turkish intelligence to the border for rebel acquisition. CIA operatives along with Israeli and Jordanian commandos were also training FSA rebels on the Jordanian-Syrian border with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. In addition, other reports show that British and French military were also involved in these secret training programmes. It appears that the same FSA rebels receiving this elite training went straight into ISIS – last month one ISIS commander, Abu Yusaf, said, “Many of the FSA people who the west has trained are actually joining us.”
The National thus confirmed the existence of another command and control centre in Amman, Jordan, “staffed by western and Arab military officials,” which “channels vehicles, sniper rifles, mortars, heavy machine guns, small arms and ammunition to Free Syrian Army units.” Rebel and opposition sources described the weapons bridge as “a well-run operation staffed by high-ranking military officials from 14 countries, including the US, European nations and Arabian Gulf states, the latter providing the bulk of materiel and financial support to rebel factions.”
The FSA sources interviewed by The National went to pains to deny that any al-Qaeda affiliated factions were involved in the control centre, or would receive any weapons support. But this is difficult to believe given that “Saudi and Qatari-supplied weapons” were being funneled through to the rebels via Amman, to their favoured factions.
Classified assessments of the military assistance supplied by US allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar obtained by the New York Times showed that “most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups… are going to hardline Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster.”
Lest there be any doubt as to the extent to which all this covert military assistance coordinated by the US has gone to support al-Qaeda affiliated factions in the FSA, it is worth noting that earlier this year, the Israeli military intelligence website Debkafile – run by two veteran correspondents who covered the Middle East for 23 years for The Economist – reported that: “Turkey is giving Syrian rebel forces, including the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, passage through its territory to attack the northwestern Syrian coastal area around Latakia.”
In August, Debkafile reported that “The US, Jordan and Israel are quietly backing the mixed bag of some 30 Syrian rebel factions”, some of which had just “seized control of the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing, the only transit point between Israeli and Syrian Golan.” However, Debkafile noted, “al-Qaeda elements have permeated all those factions.” Israel has provided limited support to these rebels in the form of “medical care,” as well as “arms, intelligence and food…
“Israel acted as a member, along with the US and Jordan, of a support system for rebel groups fighting in southern Syria. Their efforts are coordinated through a war-room which the Pentagon established last year near Amman. The US, Jordanian and Israeli officers manning the facility determine in consultation which rebel factions are provided with reinforcements from the special training camps run for Syrian rebels in Jordan, and which will receive arms. All three governments understand perfectly that, notwithstanding all their precautions, some of their military assistance is bound to percolate to al-Qaeda’s Syrian arm, Jabhat Al-Nusra, which is fighting in rebel ranks. Neither Washington or Jerusalem or Amman would be comfortable in admitting they are arming al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front in southern Syria.”
This support also went to ISIS. Although the latter was originally founded in Iraq in October 2006, by 2013 the group had significantly expanded its operations in Syria working alongside al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra until February 2014, when ISIS was formally denounced by al-Qaeda. Even so, experts on the region’s Islamist groups point out that the alleged rift between al-Nusra and ISIS, while real, is not as fraught as one might hope, constituting a mere difference in tactics rather than fundamental ideology.
ISIS fighters pose for the camera.
Officially, the US government’s financial support for the FSA goes through the Washington DC entity, the Syrian Support Group (SSG), Syrian Support Group (SSG) which was incorporated in April 2012. The SSG is licensed via the US Treasury Department to “export, re-export, sell, or supply to the Free Syrian Army (‘FSA’) financial, communications, logistical, and other services otherwise prohibited by Executive Order 13582 in order to support the FSA.”
In mid-2013, the Obama administration intensified its support to the rebels with a new classified executive order reversing its previous policy limiting US direct support to only nonlethal equipment. As before, the order would aim to supply weapons strictly to “moderate” forces in the FSA.
Except the government’s vetting procedures to block Islamist extremists from receiving US weapons have never worked.
A year later, Mother Jones found that the US government has “little oversight over whether US supplies are falling prey to corruption – or into the hands of extremists,” and relies “on too much good faith.” The US government keeps track of rebels receiving assistance purely through “handwritten receipts provided by rebel commanders in the field,” and the judgement of its allies. Countries supporting the rebels – the very same which have empowered al-Qaeda affiliated Islamists – “are doing audits of the delivery of lethal and nonlethal supplies.”
Thus, with the Gulf states still calling the shots on the ground, it is no surprise that by September last year, eleven prominent rebel groups distanced themselves from the ‘moderate’ opposition leadership and allied themselves with al-Qaeda.
By the SSG’s own conservative estimate, as much as 15% of rebel fighters are Islamists affiliated to al-Qaeda, either through the Jabhut al-Nusra faction, or its breakaway group ISIS. But privately, Pentagon officialsestimate that “more than 50%” of the FSA is comprised of Islamist extremists, and according to rebel sources neither FSA chief Gen Salim Idris nor his senior aides engage in much vetting, decisions about which are made typically by local commanders.
Part 2 – THE LONG WAR
Follow the money
Media reports following ISIS’ conquest of much of northern and central Iraq this summer have painted the group as the world’s most super-efficient, self-financed, terrorist organisation that has been able to consolidate itself exclusively through extensive looting of Iraq’s banks and funds from black market oil sales. Much of this narrative, however, has derived from dubious sources, and overlooked disturbing details.
One senior anonymous intelligence source told Guardian correspondent Martin Chulov, for instance, that over 160 computer flash sticks obtained from an ISIS hideout revealed information on ISIS’ finances that was completely new to the intelligence community.
A convoy of vehicles and fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq’s Anbar Province.
“Before Mosul, their total cash and assets were $875m [£515m],” said the official on the funds obtained largely via “massive cashflows from the oilfields of eastern Syria, which it had commandeered in late 2012.” Afterwards, “with the money they robbed from banks and the value of the military supplies they looted, they could add another $1.5bn to that.” The thrust of the narrative coming from intelligence sources was simple: “They had done this all themselves. There was no state actor at all behind them, which we had long known. They don’t need one.”
“ISIS’ half-a-billion-dollar bank heist makes it world’s richest terror group,” claimed the Telegraph, adding that the figure did not include additional stolen gold bullion, and millions more grabbed from banks “across the region.”
This story of ISIS’ stupendous bank looting spree across Iraq made global headlines but turned out to bedisinformation. Senior Iraqi officials and bankers confirmed that banks in Iraq, including Mosul where ISIS supposedly stole $430 million, had faced no assault, remain open, and are guarded by their own private security forces.
How did the story come about? One of its prime sources was Iraqi parliamentarian Ahmed Chalabi – the same man who under the wing of his ‘Iraqi National Congress’ peddled false intelligence about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda.
In June, Chalabi met with the US ambassador to Iraq, Robert Beecroft, and Brett McGurk, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran. According to sources cited by Buzzfeed in June, Beecroft “has been meeting Chalabi for months and has dined at his mansion in Baghdad.”
Follow the oil
But while ISIS has clearly obtained funding from donors in the Gulf states, many of its fighters having broken away from the more traditional al-Qaeda affiliated groups like Jabhut al-Nusra, it has also successfully leveraged its control over Syrian and Iraqi oil fields.
In January, the New York Times reported that “Islamist rebels and extremist groups have seized control of most of Syria’s oil and gas resources”, bolstering “the fortunes of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and the Nusra Front, both of which are offshoots of al-Qaeda.” Al-Qaeda affiliated rebels had “seized control of the oil and gas fields scattered across the country’s north and east,” while more moderate “Western-backed rebel groups do not appear to be involved in the oil trade, in large part because they have not taken over any oil fields.”
Jabhut al-Nusra rebels at Syrian oil fields.
Yet the west had directly aided these Islamist groups in their efforts to operationalise Syria’s oil fields. In April 2013, for instance, the Times noted that al-Qaeda rebels had taken over key regions of Syria: “Nusra’s hand is felt most strongly in Aleppo”, where the al-Qaeda affiliate had established in coordination with other rebel groups including ISIS “a Shariah Commission” running “a police force and an Islamic court that hands down sentences that have included lashings.” Al-Qaeda fighters also “control the power plant and distribute flour to keep the city’s bakeries running.” Additionally, they “have seized government oil fields” in provinces of Deir al-Zour and Hasaka, and now make a “profit from the crude they produce.”
Lost in the fog of media hype was the disconcerting fact that these al-Qaeda rebel bread and oil operations in Aleppo, Deir al-Zour and Hasaka were directly and indirectly supported by the US and the European Union (EU). One account by the Washington Post for instance refers to a stealth mission in Aleppo “to deliver food and other aid to needy Syrians – all of it paid for by the US government,” including the supply of flour. “The bakery is fully supplied with flour paid for by the United States,” the Post continues, noting that local consumers, however, “credited Jabhat al-Nusra – a rebel group the United States has designated a terrorist organisation because of its ties to al-Qaeda – with providing flour to the region, though he admitted he wasn’t sure where it comes from.”
And in the same month that al-Qaeda’s control of Syria’s main oil regions in Deir al-Zour and Hasaka was confirmed, the EU voted to ease an oil embargo on Syria to allow oil to be sold on international markets from these very al-Qaeda controlled oil fields. European companies would be permitted to buy crude oil and petroleum products from these areas, although transactions would be approved by the Syrian National Coalition. Due to damaged infrastructure, oil would be trucked by road to Turkey where the nearest refineries are located.
“The logical conclusion from this craziness is that Europe will be funding al-Qaeda,” saidJoshua Landis’]);”>Joshua Landis , a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma.
Just two months later, a former senior staffer at the Syria Support Group in DC, David Falt, leaked internal SSG emails confirming that the group was “obsessed” with brokering “jackpot” oil deals on behalf of the FSA for Syria’s rebel-run oil regions.
“The idea they could raise hundreds of millions from the sale of the oil came to dominate the work of the SSG to the point no real attention was paid to the nature of the conflict,” said Falt, referring in particular to SSG’s director Brian Neill Sayers, who before his SSG role worked with NATO’s Operations Division. Their aim was to raise money for the rebels by selling the rights to Syrian oil.
Tacit complicity in IS oil smuggling
Even as al-Qaeda fighters increasingly decide to join up with IS, the ad hoc black market oil production and export infrastructure established by the Islamist groups in Syria has continued to function with, it seems, the tacit support of regional and western powers.
Baiji oil refinery in Iraq.
According to Ali Ediboglu, a Turkish MP for the border province of Hatay, IS is selling the bulk of its oil from regions in Syria and Mosul in Iraq through Turkey, with the tacit consent of Turkish authorities: “They have laid pipes from villages near the Turkish border at Hatay. Similar pipes exist also at [the Turkish border regions of] Kilis, Urfa and Gaziantep. They transfer the oil to Turkey and parlay it into cash. They take the oil from the refineries at zero cost. Using primitive means, they refine the oil in areas close to the Turkish border and then sell it via Turkey. This is worth $800 million.” He also noted that the extent of this and related operations indicates official Turkish complicity. “Fighters from Europe, Russia, Asian countries and Chechnya are going in large numbers both to Syria and Iraq, crossing from Turkish territory. There is information that at least 1,000 Turkish nationals are helping those foreign fighters sneak into Syria and Iraq to join ISIS. The National Intelligence Organization (MIT) is allegedly involved. None of this can be happening without MIT’s knowledge.”
Similarly, there is evidence that authorities in the Kurdish region of Iraq are also turning a blind eye to IS oil smuggling. In July, Iraqi officials said that IS had begun selling oil extracted from in the northern province of Salahuddin. One official pointed out that “the Kurdish peshmerga forces stopped the sale of oil at first, but later allowed tankers to transfer and sell oil.”
State of Law coalition MP Alia Nasseef also accused the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of secretly trading oil with IS: “What is happening shows the extent of the massive conspiracy against Iraq by Kurdish politicians… The [illegal] sale of Iraqi oil to ISIS or anyone else is something that would not surprise us.” Although Kurdish officials have roundly rejected these accusations, informed sources told the Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat that Iraqi crude captured by ISIS was “being sold to Kurdish traders in the border regions straddling Iraq, Iran and Syria, and was being shipped to Pakistan where it was being sold ‘for less than half its original price.’”
An official statement in August from Iraq’s Oil Ministry warned that any oil not sanctioned by Baghdad could include crude smuggled illegally from IS:
“International purchasers [of crude oil] and other market participants should be aware that any oil exports made without the authorisation of the Ministry of Oil may contain crude oil originating from fields under the control of [ISIS].”
“Countries like Turkey have turned a blind eye to the practice” of IS oil smuggling, said Luay al-Khateeb, a fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, “and international pressure should be mounted to close down black markets in its southern region.” So far there has been no such pressure. Meanwhile, IS oil smuggling continues, with observers inside and outside Turkey noting that the Turkish government is tacitly allowing IS to flourish as it prefers the rebels to the Assad regime.
According to former Iraqi oil minister Isam al-Jalabi, “Turkey is the biggest winner from the Islamic State’s oil smuggling trade.” Both traders and oil firms are involved, he said, with the low prices allowing for “massive” profits for the countries facilitating the smuggling.
Buying ISIS oil?
Early last month, a tanker carrying over a million barrels in crude oil from northern Iraq’s Kurdish region arrived at the Texas Gulf of Mexico. The oil had been refined in the Iraqi Kurdish region before being pumped through a new pipeline from the KRG area ending up at Ceyhan, Turkey, where it was then loaded onto the tanker for shipping to the US. Baghdad’s efforts to stop the oil sale on the basis of its having national jurisdiction were rebuffed by American courts.
In early September, the European Union’s ambassador to Iraq, Jana Hybášková, told the EU Foreign Affairs Committee that “several EU member states have bought oil from the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorist organisation that has been brutally conquering large portions of Iraq and Syria,” according to Israel National News. She however “refused to divulge the names of the countries despite being asked numerous times.”
A third end-point for the KRG’s crude this summer, once again shipped via Turkey’s port of Ceyhan, was Israel’s southwestern port of Ashkelon. This is hardly news though. In May, Reuters revealed that Israeli and US oil refineries had been regularly purchasing and importing KRG’s disputed oil.
Meanwhile, as this triangle of covert oil shipments in which ISIS crude appears to be hopelessly entangled becomes more established, Turkey has increasingly demanded that the US pursue formal measures to lift obstacles to Kurdish oil sales to global markets. The KRG plans to export as much as 1 million barrels of oil a day by next year through its pipeline to Turkey.
The Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline: Iraqi Kurdistan alone could hold up to 45 billion barrels of oil, allowing exports of up to 4 million barrels a day in the next decade if successfully brought to production.
Among the many oil and gas firms active in the KRG capital, Erbil, are ExxonMobil and Chevron. They are drilling in the region for oil under KRG contracts, though operations have been halted due to the crisis. No wonder Steve Coll writes in the New Yorker that Obama’s air strikes and arms supplies to the Kurds – notably not to Baghdad – effectively amount to “the defense of an undeclared Kurdish oil state whose sources of geopolitical appeal – as a long-term, non-Russian supplier of oil and gas to Europe, for example – are best not spoken of in polite or naïve company.” The Kurds are now busy working to “quadruple” their export capacity, while US policy has increasingly shifted toward permitting Kurdish exports – a development that would have major ramifications for Iraq’s national territorial integrity.
To be sure, as the offensive against IS ramps up, the Kurds are now selectively cracking down on IS smuggling efforts – but the measures are too little, too late.
A new map
The Third Iraq War has begun. With it, longstanding neocon dreams to partition Iraq into three along ethnic and religious lines have been resurrected.
White House officials now estimate that the fight against the region’s ‘Islamic State’ will last years, and may outlive the Obama administration. But this ‘long war’ vision goes back to nebulous ideas formally presented by late RAND Corp analyst Laurent Muraweic before the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board at the invitation of then chairman Richard Perle. That presentation described Iraq as a “tactical pivot” by which to transform the wider Middle East.
Brian Whitaker, former Guardian Middle East editor, rightly noted that the Perle-RAND strategy drew inspiration from a 1996 paper published by the Israeli Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, co-authored by Perle and other neocons who held top positions in the post-9/11 Bush administration.
The policy paper advocated a strategy that bears startling resemblance to the chaos unfolding in the wake of the expansion of the ‘Islamic State’ – Israel would “shape its strategic environment” by first securing the removal of Saddam Hussein. “Jordan and Turkey would form an axis along with Israel to weaken and ‘roll back’ Syria.” This axis would attempt to weaken the influence of Lebanon, Syria and Iran by “weaning” off their Shi’ite populations. To succeed, Israel would need to engender US support, which would be obtained by Benjamin Netanyahu formulating the strategy “in language familiar to the Americans by tapping into themes of American administrations during the cold war.”
The 2002 Perle-RAND plan was active in the Bush administration’s strategic thinking on Iraq shortly before the 2003 war. According to US private intelligence firm Stratfor, in late 2002, then vice-president Dick Cheney and deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz had co-authored a scheme under which central Sunni-majority Iraq would join with Jordan; the northern Kurdish regions would become an autonomous state; all becoming separate from the southern Shi’ite region.
The strategic advantages of an Iraq partition, Stratfor argued, focused on US control of oil:
“After eliminating Iraq as a sovereign state, there would be no fear that one day an anti-American government would come to power in Baghdad, as the capital would be in Amman [Jordan]. Current and potential US geopolitical foes Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria would be isolated from each other, with big chunks of land between them under control of the pro-US forces.
Equally important, Washington would be able to justify its long-term and heavy military presence in the region as necessary for the defense of a young new state asking for US protection – and to secure the stability of oil markets and supplies. That in turn would help the United States gain direct control of Iraqi oil and replace Saudi oil in case of conflict with Riyadh.”
The expansion of the ‘Islamic State’ has provided a pretext for the fundamental contours of this scenario to unfold, with the US and British looking to re-establish a long-term military presence in Iraq in the name of the “defense of a young new state.”
In 2006, Cheney’s successor, Joe Biden, also indicated his support for the ‘soft partition’ of Iraq along ethno-religious lines – a position which the co-author of the Biden-Iraq plan, Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations, now argues is “the only solution” to the current crisis.
Also in 2006, the Armed Forces Journal published a map of the Middle East with its borders thoroughly re-drawn, courtesy of Lt. Col. (ret.) Ralph Peters, who had previously been assigned to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence where he was responsible for future warfare. As for the goals of this plan, apart from “security from terrorism” and “the prospect of democracy”, Peters also mentioned “access to oil supplies in a region that is destined to fight itself.”
In 2008, the strategy re-surfaced – once again via RAND Corp – through a report funded by the US Army Training and Doctrine Command on how to prosecute the ‘long war.’ Among its strategies, one scenario advocated by the report was ‘Divide and Rule’ which would involve:
“… exploiting fault lines between the various Salafi-jihadist groups to turn them against each other and dissipate their energy on internal conflicts.”
Simultaneously, the report suggested that the US could foster conflict between Salafi-jihadists and Shi’ite militants by:
“… shoring up the traditional Sunni regimes… as a way of containing Iranian power and influence in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.”
One way or another, some semblance of this plan is in motion. Last week, Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Leiberman told US secretary of state John Kerry:
“Iraq is breaking up before our eyes and it would appear that the creation of an independent Kurdish state is a foregone conclusion.”
The rise of the ‘Islamic State’ is not just a direct consequence of this neocon vision, tied as it is to a dangerous covert operations strategy that has seen al-Qaeda linked terrorists as a tool to influence local populations – it has in turn offered a pretext for the launch of a new era of endless war, the spectre of a prolonged US-led military presence in the energy-rich Persian Gulf region, and a return to the dangerous imperial temptation to re-configure the wider regional order.
Moderate Syrian rebels and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) reportedly struck a cease-fire deal on Friday, according to a group that has monitored Syria’s civil war.
The groups agreed to a non-aggression pact in which they promised not to attack each other.
The development could influence members of Congress to vote “no” on an authorization to train and equip moderate rebel groups as early as next week. The White House has requested the authorization, but some lawmakers have already been skeptical the opposition groups can be trusted.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group based in the United Kingdom, said the groups reached the agreement in a suburb of Damascus, Syria’s capital.
Under the deal, “the two parties will respect a truce until a final solution is found and they promise not to attack each other because they consider the principal enemy to be the Nussayri regime,” Agence France-Presse reported.
Nussayri is a negative term for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite regime.
This comes as House lawmakers mull over the option to provide Obama with the authorization to train and arm the Syrian rebels. A vote on a short-term spending bill was delayed this week after the White House asked House Republicans to attach the authorization to the bill.
It’s possible GOP leaders might decide to hold a separate vote on the authorization to equip the rebels.
Some Republicans and Democrats have long called on the administration arm the rebels, but other lawmakers in both parties are afraid the weapons could wind up in the wrong hands.
A spokesman for the family of slain journalist Steven Sotloff told CNN this week that Sotloff was captured by “so-called moderate rebels” in Syria and was sold to ISIS.
ISIS militants released videos in the last month showing them beheading Sotloff and U.S. journalist James Foley.
Colonel Riad al-Asaad, the leader of the Free Syrian Army, said it would not join the alliance against the Islamic State unless it receives assurances on toppling the Syrian regime
The Free Syrian Army will not take part in U.S. plans for destroying the Islamic State, the group’s founder said.
Colonel Riad al-Asaad said opposition forces would want assurances about the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad before joining a coalition against IS.
He said: “If they want to see the Free Syrian Army on their side, they should give assurances on toppling the Assad regime and on a plan including revolutionary principles.”
The Free Syrian Army, comprised mostly of soldiers who have defected from the Syrian armed forces, has been the main opposition group to receive support from the West.
As part of the strategy for “degrading and ultimately destroying” IS, the U.S. has said it will attack IS militants in Syria as well as expand the scope of air strikes in Iraq.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Turkey on Friday to coordinate action against IS. On Saturday he will travel to Egypt, one of 10 Arab states to have joined the coalition against IS, pledging to take action to stop the flow of foreign recruits.
Turkey has refused to allow its air bases to be used to attack the jihadist group and did not sign the declaration.
A Syrian refugee woman begs for money in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, on August 29, 2014
BRITAL, Lebanon (AP) — Syrian refugee Ibrahim Abbas Ali and his family awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of gunfire outside their tent in Lebanon, and for a second time they raced off into the fields, fleeing a war that now seems to have followed them across the border.
The gunmen who attacked the makeshift camp housing around 200 refugees set fire to several of the tents, including the two used by Ali, his two wives and 15 children, destroying the few belongings they had managed to bring with them from Syria, including their official documents and U.N. refugee cards.
“We lost all the aid we received from the U.N. and all we were left with are the clothes we are wearing,” he said days later as he surveyed the blackened remains of the tents.
They appear to have been among the victims of a wave of revenge attacks carried out after one of several Lebanese soldiers captured by militants from Syria in a cross-border raid was beheaded by jihadists earlier this month. The killing of the Shiite soldier by Sunni extremists has aggravated sectarian tensions in Lebanon, which is bitterly divided over the war in neighboring Syria.
In the northeastern village of Qaa, two Syrians were wounded Wednesday in a drive-by shooting. In the southern city of Tyre, assailants on a motorcycle opened fire Wednesday night at a gathering of Syrian refugees without wounding anyone. In the eastern town of Bar Elias a Syrian was hospitalized after being stabbed in the back, and in the southern village of Zawatar, a car owned by a Syrian was set alight.
The violence has spread to the capital, where a mob of young men attacked Syrians sheltering under a bridge over the weekend, beating them with fists and clubs. In other parts of Beirut, leaflets have appeared calling on Syrians to leave or “be slaughtered or tortured to death.”
It is not clear who is behind the attacks, but most have taken place in predominantly Shiite areas. Lebanese officials say such acts are the work of individuals and not political groups or state institutions.
Lebanon has long been split over the war in neighboring Syria, with Sunnis supporting the Sunni-led rebellion against President Bashar Assad and Shiites supporting his government, fearing the rise of extremists among the rebels’ ranks. The Shiite Hezbollah movement has infuriated many Sunnis by sending fighters to battle alongside Assad’s troops.
Tensions spiked last month when militants from Syria seized the Lebanese border town of Arsal for several days, capturing around 20 soldiers and police and killing several others in the most severe spillover of the conflict. They have demanded the release of Sunni Islamists detained in Lebanon and the withdrawal of Hezbollah from Syria.
Some of the captives are believed to be held by the extremist Islamic State group, which has beheaded two soldiers — the Shiite and a Sunni soldier — and threatened to kill more.
The killing of the Shiite soldier, Abbas Medlej, who hails from the Bekaa Valley, led to a rash of tit-for-tat kidnappings between Sunnis and Shiites in the region. All of the captives were swiftly released, but the abductions brought back grim memories of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.
The attacks have also sown fear among the more than 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, who are already seen by many Lebanese as a burden on the tiny country with a population of just 4.5 million.
“The Islamic State has succeeded in transforming the slaughter of two Lebanese soldiers into a pretext for Lebanese to kidnap each other, and to practice new expulsions of displaced Syrians,” said a commentary broadcast by LBC, Lebanon’s leading TV network. “They have succeeded in awakening the beast inside us.”
The refugees in Brital described a night of terror, one that recalled the horrifying civil war from which they had fled. Mohammed Darwish, 45, said most camp residents were sleeping on the night of Sept. 6 when gunmen, many of them wearing masks, arrived in several SUVs.
“Oh you dogs. We are coming to slaughter you,” he heard the gunmen shout as they fired into the air, driving out the camp residents. Darwish said he too fled into the fields with his six children.
“We all watched the fire in the camp but no one dared to come back because they were shooting at us.”
When the family returned the next day, 11-year-old Khaled Darwish found that the flames had not spared his toys. “The tent was burnt and everything was black. Everything was burnt, my bicycle, toys and ball.”
A Lebanese resident of the town of Brital said the attack was carried out by local “thugs and troublemakers” and does not represent the town. The resident spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
The attack in Brital, and a similar incident in the nearby town of Riyak, has alarmed Syrian refugees across the Bekaa, who fear they may have to again flee the violence and sectarian hatred that have engulfed their native country.
“We live in the fear of being subjected to an attack, although we have not been threatened,” said Fatoum Allawi, 65, who fled from the northern Syrian town of Saraqib and is now sheltering near Riyak. “We are mostly women and children here with a few men who work nearby,” she said as she sat on a plastic chair holding her granddaughter.
Another refugee in Riyak, 26-year-old Aisha Mohammed, said she came from Syria’s northern province of Raqqa, which is now held by the Islamic State group and has come under increasing attack by government warplanes.
“I wish I could return to Raqqa but the bombings have intensified,” she said. “We have fled from fear in Syria and here we are living in fear in Lebanon.”
As the United States completed its 156th strike against Islamic State targets in Iraq, the world was digesting President Obama’s address to the US nation on Wednesday night, the eve of the grim anniversary of 9/11.
Yesterday’s US airstrikes destroyed 2 Islamic State (IS) machine gun emplacements and a bunker. President Obama meanwhile committed to continue the strikes on IS in Iraq and to extend them to IS targets in Syria. Obama made it clear however that there wouldbe no cooperation with the Assad regime.
Formidable US Weaponry Being Lined Up Against the Islamic State
Obama also committed to more training for the Syrian Opposition and to supply them with more weapons, though urged Congress to pass a bill already stalled before them, giving him $500 million to allow that to happen.
To keep faith with the American public he also said there would be no troops on the ground other than specialist training and intelligence teams to assist the Iraqi Army and Kurdish forces and said all US efforts would be backed by a like-minded international task force.
You can read the full text of Obama’s speech and watch the video, HERE:
At the same time, his Secretary of State John Kerry has had a meeting in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, signing up 10 Arab nations, including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and six Gulf states plus Sunni idealogical rivals Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to a supportive task force supplying military and humanitarian aid as well as trying to stop the flow of fighters and funds to the Jihadists.
In Europe support for the new anti-IS “coalition of the willing” was more patchy, with France saying it would attack IS “if required” in Iraq, but in Syria is was a different proposition.
Germany’s Foreign Minister said they would not take part in airstrikes against IS at all, while the UK’s Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, got his “wrist slapped” after saying much the same and then Prime Minister David Cameron hastily issuing a statement saying that as yet “nothing had been ruled out”.
Frances Prime Minister, Francois Hollande, arrived in Baghdad this morning, Friday, to meet with the new Iraqi Government, afterwards flying on to Erbil in Kurdistan to deliver 15 tons of humanitarian aid and to consult with Kurdish leaders.
The Opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) broadly welcomed President Obama’s statement to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State but urged him to help eliminate the Assad regime as well.
Predictably, both the Assad regime and Russia objected to Obama’s statements that he will not hestitate to strike in Syria as well as Iraq and his assertion that “we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its own people — a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost”.
Both the Syrian Government and Russia took that to mean that he will not consult them before sending US planes against IS targets within Syria. An adviser to President Assad, Buthaina Shaaban, lamely said, “Terrorism didn’t start in Syria today, it started four years ago,” when the uprising against Assad began and insisted that Syria should be included in any anti-IS coalition.
Alexander Lukashevich, speaking for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, said such a move would need an “appropriate decision of the UN Security Council” and without it “such a step would become an act of aggression, a crude violation of the norms of international law”. Syria’s other allies, Iran and China are also being left out in the cold.
While US strikes on IS in Syria would be more tricky than in Iraq where they have Government permission, the US is of course more than capable of dealing with Syrian Government radar and defence systems, just as the Israelis do on a regular basis.
An assessment of the formidable weaponry and technology, including the new F-22 Raptor jets and various drones, available to US forces can be read, HERE:
Even so the task will not be easy. Latest US assessments puts the Islamic State strength at between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters.
Little other news from Iraq, other than Islamic State gunmen have kidnapped another 20 villagers in the northern part of the country because they were suspected of “organising a group of fighters against them”. Last week 50 people from another village were “arrested” for burning an Islamic State flag and fortified position, but were later released.
ASSAD REGIME CONTINUES ITS LETHAL BOMBING CAMPAIGN AGAINST EVERYBODY, INCLUDING WOMEN AND CHILDREN:
In Syria, the Assad regime continued its own campaign against the Islamic State (IS), carrying out 6 airstrikes yesterday, Thursday, on the IS-held town of Al Bab in Aleppo province. As usual, it was civilians who took the brunt of it, rockets killing 11 and wounding 17 when the weapons struck a market.
In the struggle between the more moderate Opposition and IS at Marea, north of Aleppo city 4 Opposition fighters trying to hold the town were killed and 11 of the IS fighters trying to seize it.
Yet More Children Killed by Assad in Douma
At the IS-held village of Ihtaimlat in the northern part of the province, Opposition fighters have been attacking using mortars and heavy machine guns,HERE:
Opposition fighters also shot down a regime aircraft near Quwaires airbase near Aleppo and captured the pilot. He can be seen under interrogation, (Arabic only), HERE:
South of Aleppo city, the Opposition destroyed an armoured cannon on Mount Azzan, a missile defence base. Watch the Assad soldiers ducking into their armoured vehicle nearby as they see the missile coming, HERE:
And on the western side of Aleppo near Zahra, the Opposition have today very accurately taken out this T-72 tank with a B9 cannon, HERE:
In Idlib province on Tuesday, as many as 45 military and religious leaders from the hardline Opposition group Ahrar al-Sham were killed in an explosion at a meeting held in the basement of a building at Ram Hamdan, northeast of Idlib city. Many died of asphyxiation as a result a fire breaking out before they could escape.
The explosion killed the leader of Ahrar Al-Sham, Hassan Aboud, a member of the Islamic Front to which the group belonged.
No-one seems certain which group arranged the bombing, the Islamic State or the Assad regime, but the Abu Ammara Batalion announced yesterday that it had assassinated Assad’s Brigadier-General Haidar Obaida Naqqar in Aleppo yestreday “in retaliation”.
Whether it was the Islamic State or not, the Jihadist group seems to have promoted the impossible, forcing the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front to align with the Kurdish YPG militia in a new “Euphrates Volcano” campaign and joint operations room to fight IS across northern and eastern Syria and especially to drive them out of Manbij and Jarablus.
In the Damascus suburb of Douma, the death toll in a horrific Assad regime airstrike on Thursday has now risen to 42, including 7 children and 2 women. An unspecified number of Opposition fighters were also killed, while firefighters struggled to put out fires in several buildings. Latest unconfirmed reports are saying that after 4 days of bombs and shells, the total of dead today, Friday, in Douma has reached 100.
Violent clashes between Opposition fighters and Assad’s troops in the last 4 days near Dukhaniya on the outskirts of the capital in Eastern Ghouta, have resulted in the reported death of one of the Syrian Army’s operations commanders, Rida Makhlouf, distantly related to the President.
Opposition fighters captured the suburb earlier this week and attacked a number of barriers and checkpoints in the vicinity. Many pro-regime militia were killed in the fighting and up to 40 taken prisoner, including officers. The takeover has been followed by lots of Government shell and rocket fire, including the so-called “elephant rockets”.
Latest reports also suggest that Opposition fighters have captured a number of military points near the Tishreen district not far from the heart of the capital and have additionally blocked the road from Damascus to Quneitra province between Khan As-Shih and Sasa to the south-west of the city, HERE:
There is also a report today, Friday, that the Islamic State and more moderate Opposition brigades have agreed a “non-aggression pact” at Hajar Al-Aswad just south of Damascus. Under the ceasefire deal “the two parties will respect a truce until a final solution is found and they promise not to attack each other because they consider the principal enemy to be the Nussayri [Alawite/Assad] regime.”
ASSAD REGIME COUNTER-ATTACKS IN HAMA, DARAA & QUNEITRA, BUT JOY IN FIJI AFTER UN PEACEKEEPERS RELEASED:
In Hama province, where recently the Opposition were making significant advances, they suffered a reverse when the regime the regime this week, using Hezbollah, Iranian advisers and pro-Assad militias rather than regular troops, re-captured Khattab and Halfaya and parts of Morek and Kafr Zita.
Opposition fighters had moved within 2 to 3 kilometres of Hama Military Airbase and were successfully restricting its operation with mortar fire. Under pressure they have withdrawn and regrouped and are now counter-attacking.
Opposition View of Iran’s Relationship With Assad
Tel Al-Nasiriyah, a hilltop which the Opposition had taken before but which fell to the regime earlier this week, was retaken once again by Opposition fighters yesterday. This video is from the battlefield near Qmhana, also to the north-west of Hama city, HERE:
A major regime counter-attack seems to be underway in Daraa and Quneitra at the moment, 2 southern provinces where Assad has consistently lost ground in recent months (scroll down – see below).
Heavy fighting is going on in north-west Daraa province on the borders of Quneitra as an Assad convoy tries to regain control of Kafr Nasij and Deir Al-Adass, but so far reports suggest that Opposition fighters are holding their own and have already destroyed 2 tanks.
Sensibly, the Al-Nusra Front (ANF) in Quneitra province, after the intervention of the government of Qatar, decided to release all of their 45 Fijian UN peacekeeper hostages unharmed yesterday, much to the joy of Fiji’s 900,000 population far away in the Pacific who celebrated their freedom.
Al-Nusra dropped earlier demands for a prisoner release, aid to specific Opposition areas and a request that the UN drop ANF from their terrorist list. The release of the UN personnel can be seen from a distance, HERE:
In Latakia province, opposition fighters successfully destroyed another regime tank with a TOW anti-tank missile launcher, HERE: , while the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has confirmed that there is “compelling evidence” that chlorine gas was “systemically and repeatedly” used as a weapon against villages in northern Syria this year.
While the report stops short of actually naming the Assad regime, there is effectively no other contender for the attacks on Kafr Zita and surrounding villages in northern Syria earlier this year. You can read more, HERE:
While 96% of Syria’s declared chemical weapons have been destroyed, OPCW has yet to destroy 12 chemical weapons preparation areas and get the Syrian Government to explain a number of inconsistencies in their original declaration.
In Damascus yesterday, Thursday, 7 months after the breakdown of the UN led peace process and the resignation of the UN envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, President Assad met his replacement Staffan de Mistura. Apparently Assad banged on to the new envoy about “defeating terrorism” and got him to repeat it to journalists afterwards without distinguishing between the Islamic State, for example, and genuine resistance to the Syrian Government’s suppressive killing machine.
In Lebanon, which until now has had no official camps for its over 1 million Syrian refugees (25% of their population), the Government has decided to build 2 near the Syrian border. The decision follows rioting and attacks on refugees and unofficial camps which many Lebanese belief house “Islamic State fighters”, who have been accused of beheading Lebanese Army soldiers.
The last word, as often before goes to the good citizens of Kanfranbel in Idlib province, who donning their “Grim Reaper” outfits and with great humour put out the commemorative banner below to remember 9/11. For their trouble they were bombed 3 times today, Friday, by Assad’s Air Force.
Hanif Qadir, a former extremist who now runs the Active Change Foundation, a de-radicalization project in London which works with young people at risk of embracing terrorism and people convicted of terrorists offenses, stands at the foundation’s youth center in London
LONDON — The London-accented militant who delivered blood-curdling threats to the West before apparently beheading two American journalists has become, for most Britons, the masked face of foreign fighters in Syria.
But more typical, experts say, may be the Brit who recently called home from the front lines to say he’s fed up.
“The whole jihad was turned upside down,” the militant recently told Shiraz Maher, a senior researcher for the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London. “Muslims are fighting Muslims. I didn’t come for that.”
The fighter’s disillusionment, experts say, has become a recurring theme among some of the thousands of young men and women from around the globe who have answered the Islamic State’s call for holy war but have found the reality is significantly less glorious than what they were promised.
For those trying to stanch the flow of fighters and combat extremism here in Britain, it’s a perspective that could be the perfect antidote to Islamic State propaganda. And yet it’s one that is seldom if ever heard here, in part because of government policy that focuses on keeping Brits who have gone to war from returning home — and locking them up if they even try.
[Crossword Puzzle: How closely have you been following world news this week?]
“A lot of them feel trapped by the Islamic State not letting them go, and by the British government not letting them back,” said Richard Barrett, a former counterterrorism director with Britain’s foreign intelligence service, MI6. “But if you want people to understand that it’s bloody terrible out there, you have to hear from these people.”
The government has good reason to be extremely wary of allowing former fighters to come home after war-zone experiences that have left many more radical than ever — and possibly determined to strike the West.
British Prime Minister David Cameron recently called the prospect that they could return and carry out attacks here “a greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before.” On the same day, British security services raised the terror threat level to “severe,” meaning an attack on British soil is now considered “highly likely.”
The government’s response has been to crack down hard on those suspected of planning to travel to Syria, as well as those who may have already been. With the war in Syria little more than a budget-airline flight away, thousands of Europeans have been drawn in, including some 500 Britons. British police have arrested 69 people this year on suspicion of joining the fight.
To keep militants from slipping through, Cameron has sought to close loopholes in the law, including giving police the power to temporarily confiscate passports as fighters attempt to come and go at airports.
London Mayor Boris Johnson, touted as a possible future prime minister, has gone further, suggesting suspected fighters be presumed guilty until proven innocent and should be stripped of their citizenship.
Such tough talk has dominated the discourse here, with little attention given to the idea of allowing some fighters to return and funneling them through a comprehensive deradicalization program.
For many who understand the homegrown extremism problem best, the current approach could be dangerously counterproductive.
“If you stop them from coming back, you’re going to create more grievances, and more reasons for this country to be targeted,” said Hanif Qadir, chief executive of the Active Change Foundation, an anti-extremist group. “If we don’t leave a doorway open for them, they’re going to become more radicalized.”
Qadir knows the problem intimately. Appalled by reports of American airstrikes killing innocent civilians, he traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2002. He went with the intention of performing humanitarian work but said he was also attracted to the Taliban’s rhetoric of struggle against a foreign occupier and was prepared to fight alongside the insurgent group. Instead, he was repelled by what he found.
“If American soldiers were being hostile toward innocent civilians, so were al-Qaeda and the Taliban,” Qadir said. “This was hypocrisy.”
Qadir soon returned to Britain. The following year he launched ACF in an attempt to halt the spread of extremism in the northeast London neighborhood of Walthamstow, a community of neat, stucco-faced row-houses where fish-n-chip joints dot the landscape alongside designer-hijab shops and travel agencies that specialize in pilgrimages to Mecca.
Qadir said that the government should realize that Brits who went to Syria to fight and became disillusioned while there can be some of the most effective spokespeople against the lure of the Islamic State.
“They’ve been sold a lie. They didn’t sign up for this sort of barbaric behavior, and now they want out,” Qadir said. “You can’t look at these individuals as potential threats. You have to look at them as potential assets.”
Radical groups in Syria have for years waged a slick campaign to recruit Westerners by appealing to their sense of religious duty and by assuring them that despite all evidence to the contrary, war isn’t so tough.
Recruiters have referred to the fight in Syria as “five-star jihad,” with impressionable would-be fighters promised ample accommodations, fine food, money and brides. Some recruitment materials have featured smiling fighters holding kittens.
But the reality is considerably less appealing, especially for Westerners who often lack any military training and may not even speak Arabic.
Experts say that foreign fighters are often given menial jobs far from the front lines, or are deemed expendable and used as suicide bombers. Many have been surprised to find that when they do fight, the battles are with fellow rebel groups, not with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The disillusioned fighter who recently contacted Maher, the King’s College researcher, said he is fighting in Syria alongside 30 Britons.
“Many people left to help the Syrian people. Then we got labeled as terrorists,” Maher quoted the militant as saying. “Now people want to come back, not to attack but because they found out jihad is not what they thought.”
Peter Neumann, Maher’s colleague at King’s College, said the government would be missing an opportunity if it did not allow some of those disillusioned fighters to return on the condition that they participate in a deradicalization program and submit to monitoring by the domestic intelligence agency, MI5.
“Clearly, people like that could become very powerful spokespeople that you could send into Muslim communities to speak out against [the Islamic State,]” he said. “All the government is currently offering is to say, ‘We’re going to lock you up for 20 to 30 years,’ which is appropriate for very hardened extremists. But for the ones we are talking about, there should be another option.”