Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
March 31, 2016

Chicken Propaganda (Graphic)

This circulates as the picture of a Sunni boy slaughtered by Iran led Shia militia in Fallujah, Iraq.

But like many pictures and videos from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere this one does not show the full extend of the massacre.

More pictures of the boy ...

 

 

That's not all yet.

Unfortunately many more beings of God's Creation lost their life in this scene.

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CHICKEN

 

via the Egyptian actor Adel Emam

Posted by b on March 31, 2016 at 06:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (45)

March 30, 2016

How The U.S. Continues To Arm al-Qaeda

Exhibit 1

According to rebels in the Turkish border zone, weapons have flowed steadily into Syria since the ceasefire began. Even those who hope for a political settlement aren’t betting on one any time soon. Instead they’re stockpiling for the next round, which they expect will be as desperate as the last.
...
“We ask the Friends of Syria and they give us,” [Colonel Hassan Rajoub, commander of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) Division 16], said with a smile. “They have just now given us new supplies of everything. But we want some special weapons to give us a little bit of leverage.”
...
[S]everal FSA commanders said the United States had been forthcoming during the ceasefire period, replenishing arms stocks and leaving open the possibility that some anti-aircraft missiles might be released into northern Syria.

“We expect a surprise,” said one satisfied commander.
...
“The U.S. military commanders are always with us,” Rajoub said. “We ask. They are very cooperative. They understand our needs.”

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Around Aleppo, It’s Not Peace—Just a Break, Thanassis Cambanis, Century Foundation, March 28 2016

Exhibit 2

Hard-core Islamists in the Nusra Front have long outgunned the more secular, nationalist, Western-supported rebels. According to FSA officers, Nusra routinely harvests up to half the weapons supplied by the Friends of Syria, a collection of countries opposed to Assad, and has regularly smashed FSA factions that were corrupt and inefficient — or that Nusra thought were getting too strong or too popular.
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The Syrian Revolution Against al Qaeda, Thanassis Cambanis, Foreign Policy, March 29 2016

Posted by b on March 30, 2016 at 12:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (31)

March 29, 2016

Libya - Tribes, Militia, Interests And Intervention - by Richard Galustian

The extensive piece below on the situation in Libya is by Richard Galustian, a long time Middle East and North African security specialist and author. In February we discussed the whitewash U.S. media is giving Hillary Clinton and the U.S., British and French 2011 war on Libya. In March we borrowed from Richard Galustian's work in and on Libya for a look at some curious personal interests in the current build up to a sequel of the earlier war.

Galustian discusses the situation on the ground in Libya, the details of the various local groups and interests involved and the continuing and coming international interference in Libya. He analyses possible alternative steps forward. His thoughts on the subject are based on his extensive on-the-ground knowledge of the tribes and militias of Libya. This presents a unique insight into the most complex labyrinth of inter-connected Libyan and foreign interests.

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Libya - Tribes, Militia, Interests And Intervention

by Richard Galustian

It is something that had never happened in any country since the formation of the United Nations. The UN has, without an election, created unilaterally its own government for a country, and then immediately recognized it. The Government of National Accord, the GNA for Libya is a government based in exile and not elected but chosen by the "International Community".
 
A concerted effort over Easter for the GNA in exile in Tunis to 'take power' in Tripoli failed completely despite the spin and false optimism of the UN and the U.S. and UK in particular.
 
Let's rewind a little.
 
The recent United Nations plan to bring peace to Libya and eliminate ISIS was/is a two stage process fraught with great risk, uncertainty and is poorly thought out.
 
First is to persuade Libya’s factions to unite under a Government, the GNA while it is in exile. Second, to provide weapons, training and air support for a newly united Libyan army to attack ISIS. 
 
These are totally unrealistic expectations that will never happen.
 
The background needs to be understood. The critical fact being that Libya’s main factions are divided into two very loose camps.
 
One camp supports the elected parliament, the House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk. The other is made up of the previous parliament, the General National Congress (GNC) and supports 'Libya Dawn', an Islamist-led coalition of militias that include the extremist elements of the Muslim Brotherhood and former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) revolutionaries. The LIFG is an al-Qaeda offshoot.
 
Civil war began in July 2014 when 'Libya Dawn' seized Tripoli by force after the elections saw sharp losses for the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies including notably former leader of the LIFG, the infamous Abdel Hakim Belhadj, currently suing in the London Courts the then Foreign Minister and MI-6. 
 
The HoR won international recognition straight after the UN announced its election was free and fair, but under intimidation (that's when Islamists destroyed Tripoli International Airport etc) from militias, the HoR fled east to Tobruk.
 
To further complicate the situation one must realize that within these two camps are a lattice work of rivalries and tribal divisions.
 
Libya has no ‘third force’ of police or army acceptable to all sides. The militias are the third force! Essentially they represents 'guns for hire'. The army and police are first and second.
 
The problem for the international community is while destroying ISIS is their stated priority, both Libya’s rival camps see each other as the greater threat. ISIS is a threat, but neither camp believes it is an existential threat, so the priority for both camps is fighting each other.
 
 
    1.1 In Derna,1.2 In Sirte,1.3 In Sabratha
2 Tobruk (HoR) Government Forces
    2.1 Regular forces, 2.2 Petroleum Facilities Guard, 2.3 Zintan + Warshefa militias
3 'Libya Dawn'
    8.1 Sanctions - stop and search ships and planes, 8.2 Muslim Brotherhood, 8.3 Libyan Institutions, 8.4 Benghazi
Conclusion

Map of Libya, Oil and gas locations
 
 
1 ISIS in Libya
 
Bases: Derna, Sirte, Sabratha; Strength: 6,000 (Pentagon estimate)
 
1.1 In Derna
 
ISIS arrived in Libya in the summer of 2014 and established control of the eastern town of Derna, aided by a Yemeni preacher and a group of 200-300 ISIS fighters, many of them Libyan, includes many of the Al Badr Brigade, which had fought in Syria and Ansar Al Sharia whom some credit for killing the US Ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi.
 
In June 2015 a mixed force of regular army and an Al Qaida affiliated militia, Omar Mukhtar Brigade, pushed ISIS out of the town to its base in the forested green mountains to the south, the only high ground in the East.
 
Rumors that Qatari backed, Abdel Hakim Belhadj is linked to ISIS have never been proven. His LIFG was by the way designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. 
 
1.2 In Sirte
 
The ISIS headquarter in Libya is in Sirte, Muammar Gaddafi’s birthplace and the site of his capture and execution at the end of the 2011 uprising in October.
 
Since establishing itself there in 2014, ISIS has pushed outwards, and now holds 150 miles of the Mediterranean coast either side of the town facing Europe. It has also pushed south, raiding production units in Sirte Basin, Libya’s largest collection of oil fields.
 
In December 2015 it attacked Libya’s principle oil ports, Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, east of Sirte, setting storage tanks ablaze. In March 2016 it attacked Sarir, the largest remaining oil field still in production, 200 miles south east of Sirte.
 
The Pentagon estimates ISIS has 6,000 fighters and anecdotal reports suggest more are arriving hiding among migrant streams crossing Libya’s southern border. The majority of ISIS fighters in Libya are foreign, with contingents from Tunisia, Chad, Yemen, Syria, Mali, Niger and most recently Senegal. Other estimates put ISIS numbers closer to 10,000 and in future that number will undoubtedly grow.
 
1.3 In Sabratha
 
The main ISIS base in western Libya was at Sabratha, 30 miles west of Tripoli. Remnants still remain there.
 
In February U.S. air strikes successfully struck an ISIS compound killing 41 fighters, the bulk of them, according to ID cards recovered, were from Tunisia. Subsequently ISIS units overran the town, beheading 12 police officers in the police headquarters.
 
In early March ISIS units briefly captured areas of the Tunisian border town of Ben Gardan, before succumbing to government troops in fighting that left 50 dead. The U.S. strikes and subsequent fighting exposed links between the town’s Libya Dawn leadership and ISIS, who were able to use private houses leased by townspeople.
 
 
2 Tobruk (HoR) Government Forces
 
Regular army and militias from eastern Libya, militias south and west Libya. Strength estimates for full and part time fighters: 15,000-30,000. Between 12 and 30 fighter bombers + helicopters.
 
2.1 Regular forces
 
Tobruk’s most powerful force is the regular army. It is based in eastern Libya and has recently captured the bulk of Benghazi from Islamist militias and ISIS. It is led by Tobruk commander-in-chief Khalifa Haftar, probably the most polarizing figure in Libya. He is more popular than Western media portrays. He has vowed to destroy Islamist forces which he brands terrorists, and is supported and hated in equal measure.
 
The otherwise most popular soldier in the East is the enigmatic much respected Col. Wanis Bukhamada.
 
The army’s key units are the Saiqa and Zawiya-Martyrs’ brigades based in Benghazi and the 204 tank brigade. These units have some characteristics of militias, in that their personnel are not interchangeable and commanders decide in advance if they will perform various actions. But they cooperate and have ability to coordinate combined attacks with limited supporting artillery.
 
The air force is commanded by Haftar’s close aid Gen. Saqr al-Jerushi and has grown to more than 16 planes and helicopters. It has the capacity to launch accurate strikes on shipping attempting to bring weapons to Islamist units in Benghazi. In early March it broadcast footage showing the aftermath of an air strike on three ships that had been bringing weapons to Islamists in Benghazi from Misrata. Air force senior Officers say better training, pilots and planes, presumably mostly from Egypt, have given them the ability to spot and hit targets, even at night, at sea, and at least half a dozen similar strikes have taken place since October.
 
2.2 Petroleum Facilities Guard
 
Officially a defense ministry formation, the PFG is a tribal militia led by a charismatic and unpredictable yet important warlord, Ibrahim Jidran and his brothers who control four principle eastern Libyan oil ports.
 
When attacked by 'Libya Dawn' in 2014 and ISIS in 2015 it defended the ports and cooperated with Haftar in clearing Islamists from the nearby town of Ajbaiya. But Jidran remains emotionally unstable, and has in the past suggested switching support to 'Libya Dawn'. He has signaled support for the GNA though that could change! This is a fairly typical trait - for Libyans, to switch allegiances regularly which makes analyzing the situation on the ground so difficult.
 
2.3 Zintan + Warshefa militias
 
The most powerful pro-government militia in western Libya is from Zintan, 90 km south west of Tripoli. It formed in the 2011 uprising, and at that time united with the rebel militia of Misrata to capture Tripoli. When Misrata joined Libya Dawn to capture the city in 2014, Zintan militia, who were until then the main pro government unit, quit the town and left the international airport after a six week battle. They returned to their almost impregnable mountainous region.
 
Importantly Zintan holds Saif Gaddafi.
 
Since 2014 Zintan has allied with militias from the Warshefani tribal belt, a crescent south of the capital. They have an integrated command center in Zintan with numbered brigades and their units cooperate well in offensive operations. Zintan’s best equipped unit is SAWAC, which deploys American uniforms and helmets and UAE manufactured armored cars. Its component parts dissolved in the 2014 fighting and joined other Zintan brigades but have since reformed.
 
Zintan now cooperates with Haftar, but, typically for Libyans, from time to time declines to take orders from him. Its operations are usually coordinated with air force bombers commanded by General Saqr Jerushi operating from the giant Wattiya desert air base north of Zintan. In December U.S. special forces were photographed at the airbase, reportedly engaged in reconnaissance of the Sabratha ISIS base 30 km north which American jets struck in February.
 
 
3 'Libya Dawn'
 
Militia led forces holding Tripoli, the western coastal belt and districts of eastern city of Benghazi. Strength estimates full and part time fighters 15,000-40,000. 3-6 fighter bombers operating out of Misrata and from Tripoli's Mitiga Air Base which doubles as a civilian airport following Tripoli International Airport's destruction.
 
'Libya Dawn' militias are broadly speaking divided between Islamist and tribal. The strongest and most important tribal militias are primarily from Misrata, as well as western coastal Libyan towns, reviving an ancient coastal-interior tribal fault line. The new UN-backed GNA has split Libya Dawn, probably permanently, with some militias in favor, others not, and consequential clashes in Tripoli between the two.
 
'Libya Dawn' was formed in July 2014 after Islamist and Misrata allies suffered defeat at the ballot boxes, in elections for the House of Representatives parliament, which was to replace the former General National Congress (GNC) parliament in which Islamists had enjoyed a narrow majority. Libya Dawn militias captured Tripoli in six weeks fighting that saw most embassies leave for Tunis or Malta and, as stated earlier, the International airport (TIP) completely destroyed.
 
Dawn then proclaimed support for a rump of the former GNC, composed of approximately 30 Islamist and Misrata former MPs. The exact number is not verified because the rump GNC holds sessions in secret. This newly constituted version of the GNC appointed a government led by a prime minister and cabinet called the National Salvation Government (NSG).
 
After a disputed Supreme Court judgement in November the rump GNC insisted it was the "real" parliament. The elected HoR now residing in Tobruk denounced the judgement, saying the Supreme Court judges were intimidated, in fear of their lives when they were forced to make their deliberations and when they were physically surrounded by Dawn militias.
 
Also as stated earlier, the UN's GNA plan has divided Libya Dawn militias, some in favor, some against although the process is fluid and dynamic and ever changing.
 
3.1 'Libya Dawn' - Pro GNA militias
 
3.1.1 Rada, or Special Deterrence Force
 
Formerly Nawasi, a Salafist formation, led by Abdul Rauf Kara. It is the self appointed religious police in Tripoli, ensuring women’s dress codes and closing shops displaying female garments. It clashes regularly with drug suppliers and usually summarily executes them on the spot.
 
​It operates from Mitiga Airport, the city center Libya airport, formerly only an AF air base. Its units are well equipped, with imported tan colored Toyotas with armor plating. To be fair Rada has brought a degree of security and stability to central Tripoli. Rada is expected to become the key security force for the GNA if it ever enters Tripoli. It has over 3,000 personnel.
 
3.1.2 Misrata: Halboos, Central Shield, Al Majoub, 166 Brigade
 
Halbous is an armored brigade, nicknamed the Black Brigade in the 2011 uprising because it painted its vehicles this color to differentiate from tan-colored Gaddafi forces for NATO jets. Founded by two engineer brothers both killed in the revolution, its units have held back from militia fighting and diplomats regard Halboos as having, as a result, good relations with both Tripoli and Zintan.
 
Halboos and Zintan negotiated a ceasefire in October 2015 which is holding. Optimistic plans call for Rada, Halboos and Zintan units to jointly patrol Tripoli to protect the GNA. This is an unlikely coalition. Some Zintan and Misrata commanders say they are reluctant, fearing increased firefights leading to mostly civilian casualties.
 
Privately, each expresses fears that less disciplined militias from their towns will take the opportunity to enter Tripoli, with family/tribal connections obliging regular units to avoid confronting them. Misrata’s Al Majoub Brigade and Central Shield militias, which have also refrained from gangsterism, also support GNA. Misrata’s 166 brigade is the lead formation battling ISIS on the Sirte front. It supports the GNA and UK and French special forces are reportedly advising it prior to an inevitable planned assault on Sirte.
 
3.2 'Libya Dawn' -  Anti-GNA militias
 
3.2.1 Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR)
 
The LROR is a Salafist brigade formed as the headquarters of 'Libya Shield', a Muslim Brotherhood ‘parallel army’ set up by the former General National Congress (GNC) in 2013 as counterweight to the regular army.
 
In reaction to the military uprising against Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt in the summer of 2013, LROR and Shield units deployed around Tripoli and were paid, bribed, whatever you like to call it, 900 million dinars on orders of GNC president Nuri Abu Sahmain.
 
In October that year LROR kidnapped then prime minister Ali Zeidan from a Tripoli hotel. Since then, LROR, like most Tripoli militias, has seen membership rise and fall as fighters join and leave other units and return; and endless cycle of defections. Its leadership has declared it will fight any attempt by the GNA to control Tripoli.
 
3.2.2 Haitham Tajouri
 
A young maverick, not very smart even by the standards of Libyan militia leaders, he opposed LROR in 2013, claiming false credit for freeing Zeidan.
 
Since then his militia from Tajoura in south west Tripoli has fought alongside and against LROR in a continually changing alliances. Politically he has been outflanked by Rada which has UN approval, and is opposed to the GNA though he could change his mind in a heart beat. In March his units captured Gaddafi’s former Hall of the People to deny it to the GNA as a possible base. That said the two most favored locations in order of preference for the GNA would be the former UN base by the Med adjacent to the futuristic Palm City.
 
A most important revolutionary figure who maintains a very low profile is Hisham Bishr; a man to watch in future; an intelligent thoughtful former librarian.
 
3.2.3 Al-Samoud Front
 
Al Samoud is an amalgamation of 12 militias led by Misrata Islamist politician Saleh Badi, who led the most powerful 'Libya Dawn' force in its 2014 capture of Tripoli, capturing and then burning Tripoli International Airport. Badi formed the front from the most politically reliable units from both Misrata, eastern Tripoli and the coastal towns of Zawiya and Sabratha in reaction to gains made in 2015 fighting by Zintan.  Badi is adamantly opposed to the GNA. To be frank, he is considered by many to be a thug, pure and simple.
 
3.2.4 Benghazi Shura Council
 
The complexity of Libya’s inter-twined tribal and Islamist conflict is highest in Benghazi.
 
After the 2011 uprising the Muslim Brotherhood GNC installed three Libya Shield brigades in the city: February 17 Martyrs, Rafallah al Sahati (commanded my Muhammad al-Ghariani) and Libya Shield 1 (commanded by Wissam bin Ahmaid) All three were MB in orientation, and advised by Ismail Salabi, brother of Libya’s key Muslim Brotherhood preacher Ali Salabi, based now in Turkey, Erdogan being the world champion of 'the Brothers' as they are known.
 
Qatar’s wish that the three brigades should support Libya’s 2012 elections saw a breakaway group, Ansar al Sharia, formed. Washington accuses Ansar of the attack on the US cluster of buildings, wrongly called a consulate, which was protected by a small force from February 17, that killed in Benghazi ambassador Chris Stevens in September 2012.
 
However, there was overlap between the Brotherhood brigades, Ansar and  other terror formations. After a massacre of 30 civilians in June 2013, Libya Shield 1’s headquarters was overrun. IEDs and a makeshift jail created in the former toilet block were discovered. Former Shield militiamen recalled that the bulk of Shield 1 were local teenagers, paid to guard the compound. Within the compound was a forbidden area of several sand colored buildings where foreign Arabs worked. Shield militiamen were forbidden to talk to them and surmised they were operating a terror campaign in Benghazi.
 
Through 2012 and 2013 Islamist units launched terror attacks, mostly assassinations, against military and police officers, judges and civil rights activists to intimidate and control the population. They culminated in the slaying of two young activists and the killing of one of Libya's most prominent activist, Salwa Bughagis, who photographed the militia unit that killed her.
 
In May 2014 Gen. Khalifa Haftar, then a retired general (who had lived the previous two decades in Virginia USA), launched Operation Dignity, with a mixed army and militia force attacking both Brotherhood and Ansar militias.
 
In February this year, according to Le Monde aided by French special forces, army units overran most Islamist positions in the town. By then, Islamist units had morphed into two parallel structures.
 
Brotherhood militias, severely depleted, had merged with Ansar al Sharia to form the Benghazi Shura Council. It was supported politically and with deliveries of weapons and fighters from Misrata and Tripoli and financed by the Central Bank of Libya.
 
Fighting both in competition and alongside were units of ISIS, which grew quickly among Shura areas, imposing harsh discipline. The Islamists were based in districts populated by people from western Libya suspicious of the eastern tribal majority.
 
 
4 Prospect of a Divided Country
 
Until 1934 Libya did not exist as a country, and was divided into three regions created by Ottoman rulers. Cyrenaica, in the east, Tripolitania in the west and Fezzan in the south. Italian colonizers displaced the Ottomans after World War One, invented the name Libya and united the three provinces.
 
Of the three provinces, the only homogeneous one is Cyrenaica (East Libya), where tribal leaders have well established rules for mediating conflict. For instance, when the Ajdabiya units of the PFG refused to allow Haftar units, from tribes further east, to enter the town to battle ISIS, Hafar demurred. Negotiations followed, the balance tipped by the strength of the regular army, and after tribal leaders agreed, army units entered the town.
 
Tripolitania (West Libya) and Fezzan (South Libya) are split, with local squabbles taking precedence over rivalry with other provinces.
 
Tripolitania is home to four million Libyans with a tribal divide separating the coast from the interior. Fezzan is split between ethnic conflict between gangs from Arab, Tobu and Tuareg peoples, some aligning with Tobruk, others with Tripoli in ever-changing loyalties.
 
 
5 Deployment of International Military Forces
 
5.1 Aviation
 
5.1.1. U.S.
 
The U.S. has struck militant positions in Libya in June and November 2015 and in February this year. It uses bombers based in both the UK and Italy. U.S. Marines are based in Italy and Spain for use to extract downed pilots. U.S. drones operate over Libya from both Italy and Niger.  
 
In addition, several aircraft, including a Dornier and Beechcraft, used by U.S. Special Operations Command operated most days of March off the Libyan coast, visible because they use flight transponders when in international airspace.
 
In December 2015 20 U.S. servicemen in civilian clothes were rather embarrassingly photographed among dune buggies and a USSOC Dornier at Al Wattiya base near Zintan. The Pentagon says it has special forces in Libya seeking alliances with militias to attack ISIS. Meanwhile Barack Obama has said the U.S. will continue to launch air strikes on militant “targets of opportunity” in Libya.
 
5.1.2  France
 
France has an aircraft carrier, Charles De Gaulle exercising with the Egyptian navy in the Mediterranean as of March 18, after it returned from deployment in the Persian Gulf.
 
Additionally, France has a force of 3,000 deployed in Niger and other parts of the Magreb, Operation Barkhane, which intercepts suspected jihadist convoys entering and leaving Libya. Guided by U.S. drones, the interceptions have seen several battles. However, the forces say they are unable to distinguish ISIS jihadist recruits moving across the border unarmed, from the tens of thousands of migrants making the same journey. The migrants are actually a 'Trojan horse' for ISIS.
 
Le Monde reported French special forces and intelligence personnel have been operating from Benghazi’s Benina airport in support of Gen.Khalifa Haftar. Photographs of their alleged compound have been circulated on social media. Though this was denied by the much respected and popular other military officer, the head of SF in Benghazi, Col. Wanis Bukhamada.
 
5.1.3  UK
 
Britain has fighter bombers, unarmed drones and reconnaissance aircraft in Cyprus.
 
In February the UK announced a 20-strong unit was advising Tunisia on protection of its border against ISIS incursions. Germany has also announced advisors deployed for the same purpose.
 
5.2 Troop deployments
 
5.2.1 Training
 
Detailed plans have not been released for deployment. Italy has said 3,000 troops may be provided, the UK up to 1,000. France, Germany and Spain may join. It is likely training would be concentrated in 'Libya Dawn' areas. In Tripoli, training would take place in several disused army bases on the south-east of the city in Tajura district. Zliten police college to the east will probably not be used after it was devastated by an IS truck bomb. Other deployments run the risk of obstruction or violence. Southern cities are considered too unsafe by continuing factional war. Benghazi would prove too controversial, but Tobruk would offer security. There is a thin line when describing 'trainers' and combat troops. The head of the British Parliament's All Party Foreign Affairs Committee, Crispin Blunt MP, himself a former soldier, voiced the strongest opposition to the UK deploying any troops describing his Committees actions actions against the British Governments plan as "I hope we put a bullet in that plan."
 
5.2.2  UN
 
The UN Security Council has heard a recommendation from experts that an armed UN security force of thousands is necessary before the mission can return.
 
5.2.3  EU
 
A report leaked to Reuters written by the famously incompetent former communist, the EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini, recommends an armed security force to protect EU advisors. The EU wants to send in more than 100 advisors from the European Border Assistance Mission, who evacuated the capital in the 2014 fighting. A hundred can achieve nothing. They also want to hand over €100m to the GNA. That would come in use to bribe militias, well initially anyway.
 
 
6 Divisions among Outside Powers
 
Libya is a strategic asset. It holds the largest oil reserves in Africa and has more than $100 billion in foreign assets and cash. The oil is light and sweet, placing it in the top four percent of world premium oil. It remains a strategic prize. Libya has also many other minerals that have yet to be exploited.
 
Libya Dawn’s Muslim Brotherhood component has seen it attract support and weapons from principally Turkey while Egypt and UAE do the same for the House of Representatives (HoR) and its rather maverick but popular commander Gen. Khalifa Haftar. This popularity is understated by the mainstream western media.
 
The GNA plan is led less by the UN than by the U.S. State Department and the UK Foreign Office. Both believe it is strategically important to ensure the Brotherhood retains a position in North Africa, after it - Morsi and Co - was replaced by force in Egypt as well as losing elections in Tunisia. The American and the British, this author maintains, are mistaken and that it is a gross error on both their parts.
 
Never forget that the mercurial, some say insane, leader of Turkey is the worlds only Muslim Brotherhood governed country.
 
The MB is unwilling to accept a place in parliament commensurate with its 14-17 percent electoral support, fearing, possibly correctly, that it will be persecuted. Instead, it is demanding a guaranteed chunk of power, policed by its own force, with control of at least part of Tripoli and at least part of the Central Bank of Libya (CBL).
 
An important fact that needs to be acknowledged is that pitted against MB influenced 'Libya Dawn' is nevertheless the legitimate parliament in Tobruk consisting of all the other parties and factions, forming a nebulous chaotic whole without a recognizable ruling group and with opposing group factions within it. Parliament has never managed to hold a session with more than 140 of its 188 MPs present and recent sessions have fallen below 100.
 
The position of foreign powers remains mixed.
 
France is more lukewarm in its support for the MB, but is united with Britain and the U.S. in wanting a rapid end to the civil war and the destruction of ISIS. Its special forces reportedly helped Haftar capture most of Benghazi. The fall of Benghazi, assuming it is completed, will represent the most strategic shift in the civil war since it began in July 2014, handing Tobruk the east, the bulk of the oil, and the upper hand. If truth be know, France would like the South of Libya (Fezzan) for a variety of obvious reasons associated with controlling Libya's southern neighbors.
 
Italy has, to all intent and purposes, sided with 'Libya Dawn', in part because Dawn controls ENI assets and the important Melitah terminal of the Greenstream gas pipeline to Europe west of Tripoli. An Italian deployment to Tripoli is seen by both camps as a decisive gesture in support of Libya Dawn.
 
Germany and other European states follow the lead of the most prominent three western powers on the UN Security Council.
 
Russia remains the enigma. It has joined with Egypt in proposing a UNSC resolution to lift the arms embargo for the regular army which will benefit Haftar. There is speculation in Libya that as Britain and the US move closer to the Muslim Brotherhood in Tripoli, Russia will increase her support for Tobruk.
 
On March 14 Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said any western military intervention in Libya must have UN Security Council approval. Legally speaking the move is unnecessary as UNSC Resolution 1970 from 2011 remains in force.
 
However, the statement is seen as a clear break with western powers. If intervention were to go ahead without Russian agreement, there is the possibility Russia, with Egypt's help, will deploy in eastern Libya.
 
One other danger of the GNA is that its existence causes Libya to split because of the nature, the make up, of the so called government. While a majority of the 9-strong presidency council are non Islamist, they are obliged to meet in Tripoli under control of the MB, the 'Libya Dawn' Islamist and Misratan units who control the city and its institutions at present. They (the presidency council) have been threatened with arrest should they enter Tripoli. Without eastern or southern forces, it is likely eastern and possibly southern presidency members will either boycott the GNA or stay away for fear of immediate kidnap.
 
In this case, the GNA if it succeeds to get to Tripoli, will operate under the same intimidation, extended to the Central Bank  and other ministries, that the GNC now operates under, effectively the GNA will become a 'Libya Dawn mark 2'.
 
In this, the UK and U.S. may feel they have met their apparent objective of securing the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, because international recognition status will have switched from the Tobruk parliament to the GNA. A mad idea by anybody's measure.
 
In effect, under this scenario, the division of Libya remains the same, but recognition status switches from the eastern government to the GNA which as explained will fast become 'Libya Dawn mark 2'. Such a scenario carries with it the possibly of split recognition. Egypt, UAE and possibly Russia will likely not agree to switch recognition to the GNA and maintain it's ties to the HoR in the East.
 
 
7 Military Training
 
Italy has offered 3,000 soldiers and the UK has suggested up to 1,000, to train a GNA army. The UK as explained earlier is highly unlikely to do this.
 
Most of these forces will be engaged in support and 'force protection'. Diplomats say the deployment is also and primarily aimed at providing foreign troops on the ground to strengthen the control of the GNA, while not acknowledging this publicly.
 
However, the deployment carries risks. A former training initiative, agreed at the 2013 G6 summit in Lock Earne saw the UK, U.S., Italy, Turkey and Jordan agree to train Libyan forces, but outside Libya because of security concerns.
 
The U.S. training plan for 5,000 Libyans in Bulgaria was abandoned. Britain abandoned after some months the training of 300 recruits in Cambridgeshire after several were jailed for various offenses including male rape. Jordan curtailed its training after a group of recruits rioted in their dorms in Amman. Italy trained more than 200 without incident. Turkey’s training was compromised by its support for 'Libya Dawn'. Remember that Turkey is headed by the world's only Muslim Brotherhood government.
 
Libyan loyalties are to the tribe and family. "Tribes trump religion" is a popular saying by some. As in Lebanon and Iraq, units formed by recruits from different tribes and groups have low cohesion. Tribal and Islamist units have high cohesion, but are self-governing, refusing orders from higher commanders.
 
The risk for foreign 'trainers' is that they train militias backed by the GNA, creating a fresh fighting division in Libya. This is like putting wood on a fire.
 
A second risk is that a proportion of equipment delivered to these formations will be illicitly sold to other militias and ISIS.
 
A third risk is force protection. As in Iraq, ISIS deploys trucks laden with explosive driven by suicide bombers. Such bombs are guaranteed to destroy the outer guard post of a base. Western troops will initially rely on Libyan militias to control outer security. But attacks by ISIS may see the militias reluctant to do so. Killing of foreign troops will raise political problems in the West. Politicians will criticize not just the deployment, but also the likelihood that if the deployment continues, there will be further casualties. The bottom line is; from where will these forces be recruited, who will lead them, against whom and with what legal protections? Unless the state enjoys a monopoly on force, few Libyans will likely join a foreign backed 'army' for a government in exile that has no organic legitimacy, traction or policy for the State beyond combating ISIS. 
 
However, Pentagon planners favor a more direct approach than their civilian counterparts. In January the U.S. Defense Department said its special forces are in Libya seeking to “partner” with local militias in the fight against ISIS.
 
Such partnerships would be short term and ad hoc. They would see special forces support ground attacks and direct air strikes, in what would be a repeat of the NATO bombing of Gaddafi forces in 2011.
 
This strategy also carries risks. ISIS in Sirte are in a built up area, and western forces will not want to be blamed for civilian casualties.
 
Also, the bombing of Sabratha exposed the ties some Libya Dawn factions, in this case the city leadership, have with ISIS.
 
 
8 Other Factors
 
8.1 Sanctions - UN option to stop and search ships and planes
 
While Tobruk forces get weapons and ammunition, mostly Russian made, across Egypt’s border, 'Libya Dawn' rely on ship and plane transport from Turkey, according to the UNSC Panel of Experts report of March 2015. But many ask how and why when Turkey is part of NATO? A seemingly unanswerable question, well one no one in the West has the balls to ask.
 
A proportion of the 'Libya Dawn' supplies and fighters go to ISIS. Cutting sea and air routes would cut ISIS supplies but also those of Dawn. By contrast, the UN has no means of enforcing an arms embargo on the Egyptian border, without Cairo’s agreement. Thus, enforcing the embargo will see the Tobruk-Dawn military head to head change to the advantage of Tobruk.
 
 
8.2 Muslim Brotherhood
 
Britain's and the U.S.'s security and intelligence communities are allegedly concerned about the overlap between the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS. Part of the reason that British and American politicians have for supporting the MB is the hope that they think it represents a non-violent outlet for jihadists who might over while be encouraged to join 'more extreme' terrorist organizations. These are echoes of the ridiculous debate about good and bad terrorists in Syria.
 
But the Brotherhood’s decision to rebel against the elected Tobruk parliament has cast doubt over this assessment. Some 'Dawn' units are interchangeable with some ISIS units, although many are not. And many of Tripoli's ostensibly Islamist units are closer in character to armed criminal gangs. ​The MB enjoys little support in what is a tribal society, winning between 13 and 17 percent in elections and the few authoritative opinion polls since the revolution. Its success in winning the 2012 election was attributed by critics to it inserting MB candidates posing as independents, notably religious figures. The MB has an extensive network in the U.S. whose leadership enjoys access directly to the White House.
 
 
8.3 Libyan Institutions
 
Libya’s overseas assets and oil income are controlled by the Central Bank, National Oil Corporation and Libya Investment Authority. The chairmen of all three were replaced by the HoR in late 2014, but refused to leave, staying in office in Tripoli. Officially they declare they are independent of both Dawn and the HoR, but the UNSC panel of experts reports that intimidation and political links ensure all three work with Dawn.
 
The Libya political agreement (LPA) calls for the HoR chairs to be dismissed, leaving the Tripoli chairs in charge, and, for opponents, giving 'Dawn' access to Libya revenues.
 
Without resolution, this may see a break, as the east refuses to export oil from eastern ports if the income returns to a 'Libya Dawn' controlled Tripoli.
 
​If Egypt, UAE and Russia continue to recognize Tobruk and the HoR which includes the Al Thinni government, then Libya will see the complicated reality of the east able to sell oil, and receive income, from those three states while the GNA in Tripoli sells to certain favored western powers.
 
​An added complication is allegations recently made publicly by both the UK ambassador Peter Millett and the UNSC panel of experts claiming the Tripoli central bank (CBL) is paying militias. The UNSC says it also has evidence that the CBL is paying Ansar al Sharia directly, who are listed by the UN and the U.S. as a terrorist organization.
 
Central bank governor El Sedik al Kabir, now a resident of Malta, has denied the reports, but evidence that he is paying armed groups, militias and possibly terrorists may see foreign oil buyers withhold payments, fearing in particular prosecution by the United States.
 
8.4 Benghazi
 
The fate of Benghazi is the hinge on which the Libya civil war turns.  If the army complete Benghazi’s capture, eastern Libya will be free of Islamist units and able to exploit oil fields holding two thirds of Libyan production.
 
​It will be de facto independent of Tripoli and able to resist the GNA. The Muslim Brotherhood and some Islamist brigades in Tripoli say they will support the GNA only if the UN can ensure a supply corridor to preserve their garrison in Benghazi.
 
UN envoy Martin Kobler has tried to facilitate this through, amongst other ways, a Qatar backed Swiss charity, pushing for it to be allowed access to Shura Council areas of Benghazi. Success will allow a regular supply pipeline and will cement the front lines, denying Haftar control of the city.
 
For this reason Tobruk forces are likely to resist the move. Kobler’s decision to back the charity has brought back echoes of the controversy of his predecessor's Bernadino Leon departure to live and work for the UAE government. In October last year Leon emails were revealed showing him accepting a job from the UAE and offering them inside information on the peace process. At best described as a conflict of interest.
 
Paradoxically, a de facto division is already underway. Most Benghazi residents from western tribes have fled, as have many non-Dawn citizens from Tripoli and its environs. The UN says half a million of Libya’s six million population are displaced by war. In Benghazi, eastern tribes say that if residents from western tribes are allowed back, Islamist militias will reform among them.
 
 
Conclusion
 
The international community, if possible in an ideal world, including Russia, should forget Libya's internal rivalries for now and, using overwhelming force focus only on ISIS, by air sea assets and boots on the ground, and once and for all eradicate ISIS in Libya, which some Pentagon sources privately say is possible within as little as a two week period.
 
If not this, then there are no easy policy options for Western forces in Libya.
 
Doing nothing means risking the civil war getting worse, Libya tipping into humanitarian crisis and ISIS expanding to dominate the country.
 
Options for striking ISIS fall into three choices.
 
1 - Do nothing.
 
This is likely to see ISIS grow as the civil war worsens. For the moment ISIS is not a mass movement among Libyans. However, growing numbers of foreign fighters are joining its ranks particularly those fleeing Syria and Iraq. They arrive in Libya courtesy of assistance by a NATO ally, Turkey. Go figure!
 
2- Air Strikes Lite.
 
Air strikes without government permission are technically legal, as they are covered by the UNSC Resolution 1973 in 2011. However, they are politically difficult for western governments, notably Great Britain and France.
 
The Pentagon “war lite” plan for air strikes backed by ad hoc alliances with local militias may fail if they cannot achieve quick results.
 
3 - Unity government which then can be followed by Western air strikes. 
 
Accept Western air strikes have already occurred without that need; witness the bombing of Sabratha by the Americans.
 
The UN plan, engineered principally by the U.S. State Department and UK Foreign Office, relies for success on the acceptance of a unity government, the UN picked GNA.
 
Talks on this broke down late last year, with the elected parliament, the HoR, was unwilling to give 'Libya Dawn' more power than its voter share entitled it to. The HoR wants the ballot box votes to prevail over guns.
 
Instead, led by U.S. and UK diplomats, who provide the impetus and expertise for Kobler, the GNA has been literally forced through.
 
Its legitimacy is built on very shaky ground. The GNA was rejected by both the GNC in Tripoli and the HoR in Tobruk, albeit with chaos in both so called parliaments and significant factions in both for and against it.
 
The GNA is built around the Libya political agreement. This calls for a prime minister, Fayez Seraj, a low profile Tripoli politician and businessman to rule as part of a 9 strong presidential council. None chosen by Libyans but by the UN!
 
The HoR leadership disrupted attempts to have a vote, however a suspiciously looking dubious letter was signed by allegedly up to 100 MPs declaring they supported the GNA but some say they were prevented from voting.
 
How many MPs signed it is unclear with several complaining they were absent. The letter, if genuine, is not enough for the political agreement underpinning the GNA to come into effect. Crucially, this agreement calls for international recognition, and control of oil income, to pass to the GNA.
 
There is further controversy because the heads of all three key state institutions the Central Bank of Libya (CBL), National Oil Corporation (NOC) and Libya Investment Authority (LIA) were replaced by Tobruk in late 2014.
 
The political agreement cancels those replacements, with power reverting back to the three pro-Dawn chairmen who, despite being sacked, remained in control of the institutions in Tripoli. The UK, UN 'Libya Dawn' and the institutions themselves insist they are independent of both sides which is poppycock according my observations. In fact the UN Panel of Experts has actually reported that the Tripoli branches are controlled by 'Libya Dawn' militias, often through violence and intimidation.
 
Plans call for 'Libya Dawn’s' Rada and assorted Misrata brigades to provide security, carrying the risk that the GNA will assume the position that the GNC now enjoy. The difference for practical purposes is that international recognition of supporting powers will switch from Tobruk to Tripoli. However, Egypt, UAE and Russia may continue recognizing Tobruk, which will institutionalize, and quite possibly accelerate, the civil war.
 
Never forget, what comes with international recognition is the potential of unfrozen cash and assets representing tens of billions of dollars to the GNA who are currently just a government in exile.
 
To get a sense of proportion of anyone trying to govern Libya, to 'pay off' all the Militias and tribes as former PM Ali Zeidan did, would cost around $30B a year alone! The annual budget average in last 5 years has been around $70B in total for 6 million people.
 
If the GNA can get to Tripoli to govern, this will leave western military forces, if deployed, likely to be embedded among 'Libya Dawn' units, and facing attack from ISIS but opposition from the regular army. An unenviable situation to say the least.
 
An international meeting to discuss military training deployment and air strikes was held in Rome on March 18 with up to 30 nations invited. However, problems with the GNA entering Tripoli, and fears it could trigger worse fighting in the capital, saw no decisions reached.
 
The UK also has a new obstacle. On March 16 the UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which is investigating UK policy in Libya, and indeed PM David Cameron himself, demanded the government seek permission for any Libya deployment from parliament. The UK, which had been expected to take a lead in air strikes, military training, logistics and security in Tripoli has had to put its plans on ice. The British government then promptly announced it had no plans for deployments, and promised parliament to announce such plans if they developed. A volte face. 
 
This has been a blow to its coalition allies but prime minister David Cameron is wary of having another Syria-style debate on military action against ISIS in Libya. U.S. policy on Libya is also uncertain, because the Republicans, who may win the presidency in November, are hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose organization in the States has regular access directly to President Obama. 
 
At time of writing the GNA has committed itself to moving from Tunis to Tripoli "within days". That was over two weeks ago. They talk boldly of moving "within days" where wiser heads say it will take "weeks and months". 
 
Legally, because it is recognized by the U.S., UK and France, it can request foreign air strikes in Libya and control overseas funds from Tunis. However, for presentational reasons, each foreign government wants a military assistance request to come only once it, the GNA, is installed in Tripoli not while it is in exile.
 
The GNA process is on a clock, because special forces and air assets were committed in December and January. Western military planners say these forces cannot stay in theater or primed indefinitely. They must either be used, or withdrawn and the operation cancelled for several months. With ISIS growing and the migrant season beginning with the arrival of spring weather, Western diplomats fear political pressure if they contemplate an extended military delay. 
 
This author emphatically believes the West, certainly Europe, has no more time if we are to stop ISIS strengthening it's position in Libya which would represent a real and imminent threat to the very existence of the EU.
 
For the UN plan to work, the GNA must go to Tripoli, which itself is very doubtful since it cannot be secured there even if embedded in Palm City with the UN Headquarters next door, much like a more concentrated (but more isolated) Green Zone like that that originally existed in Baghdad in 2003. 
 
But in so doing, it would certainly spark a more intense round of the civil war, leaving only ISIS as the winners of the spoils of such an internal conflict. One outcome if that happens is that certainly East Libya would declare unilaterally independence and become a new country, as happened to South Sudan. The second consequence much more dire and important than the split of Libya is that ISIS will eventually destroy Europe as we know it.
 
Such a break up of states in the MENA region is a trend that will not be confined to Libya alone. It seems in Trump's AMERICA FIRST foreign policy, such break up of nations will become even more popular. The author does not at all contemplate a Clinton win.

Posted by b on March 29, 2016 at 10:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (56)

March 28, 2016

Syria - How The Palmyra Victory Changes the Narrative

The liberation of Palmyra is a decisive turning point in the war on Syria. While there were earlier military successes by the Syrian Arab Army and its allies, the publicity value of securing the valued Roman ruins of Palmyra is much higher than any earlier victory. It will change some of the false narratives of the conflict.

The Syrian government is no longer "the Assad regime" and the Syrian Arab Army no longer the "Assad forces". Ban Ki Moon, the head of the United Nations, congratulated the Syrian government to its success:

In a news conference in Jordan, Ban said he was "encouraged" that the UNESCO world heritage site is out of extremist hands and that the Syrian government "is now able to preserve and protect this human common cultural asset".

One important part of liberating Palmyra was the use of Russian electronic warfare equipment to interfere with electromagnetic signals around Palmyra. The Islamic State rigged the ruins with improvised explosive devices but was unable to remotely detonate them.

The myth that the Syrian and Russian government are in cahoots with the Islamic State, told by various propagandist as well as the British and U.S. government, has now proven to be false. But other false claims are still made:

Lost in the celebrations was a discussion of how Palmyra had fallen in the first place. When the Islamic State captured the city in May, the militants faced little resistance from Syrian troops. At the time, residents said officers and militiamen had fled into orchards outside the city, leaving conscripted soldiers and residents to face the militants alone.

That depiction of the battle is pure nonsense. The Islamic State offensive that ended with its occupation of Palmyra took thirteen days from May 13 to May 26 2015. Heavy fighting and several Syrian army counter offensives took place during those days. After the Islamic State finally captured the city, the Syrian army immediately prepared for a larger operation to regain the city. This was launched successfully in July 2015 but for lack of air support the gains made were again lost a week later.

Throughout the 2015 fighting around Palmyra the U.S. air force, which claimed to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, did not intervene at all. ISIS was free to resupply through the open east-Syrian desert.

The sole reason that the Islamic State could successfully attack Palmyra was a very large ongoing attack by al-Qaeda Jihadists and CIA mercenary forces on the Syrian government forces in Idleb governate. The Syrian army moved troops from Palmyra to defend Idleb and Latakia and the forces left behind were no longer large enough to repel the Islamic State attack.

The attack on Idleb, for which the CIA allowed its proxy forces to directly cooperated with al-Qaeda, was supported by electronic warfare from Turkey which disrupted the Syrian military communication. The attack and the obvious cooperation between the Jihadists and Turkish and U.S. secret services was the reason that Russia and Iran decided to intervene in the conflict with their own forces. It had crossed their red line.

What followed was the roll up of all "rebels" that posed an immediate danger to the Syrian government. After Turkey ambushed a Russian jet all "rebel" forces supported by Turkey became priority targets. When the success of large scale offensives in Latakia and around Aleppo was established, Russia imposed a cease fire on the U.S. supported forces and on the Syria government. This cease fire freed up the Syrian, Iranian and Russian forces needed to successfully take back Palmyra. From there on the attack will progress eastward to Deir Ezzor and later on to Raqqa.

The Palmyra victory was the biggest defeat yet of the Islamic State. It poses a problem for the Obama administration:

Washington has endeavored to portray the battle against Islamic State as a project of the United States and its allies, while accusing Moscow of attacking “moderate” rebels instead of the extremists. Palmyra seems to embody an alternative narrative.

Congratulations, though still with loads of obligatory anti-Assad rhetoric, are now coming from unexpected corners like the conservative mayor of London:

I cannot conceal my elation as the news comes in from Palmyra and it is reported that the Syrian army is genuinely back in control of the entire Unesco site.

There may be booby traps in the ruins, but the terrorists are at last on the run. Hooray, I say. Bravo – and keep going.

I concur.

Posted by b on March 28, 2016 at 05:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (93)

March 27, 2016

Palmyra's Liberation, Ishtar's Resurrection And The Easter Walk

The Syrian Arab Army and its allies have taken the Palmyra ruins and Tadmor city next to them from the Islamic State. To the chagrin of the U.S. State Department (vid), the Islamic State occupiers pulled back into the eastern desert after losing some 500 men. The Syrian government can now use the air base in Palmyra and from there regain control of the eastern desert country up to Deir Ezzor and the Syrian/Iraqi border in the east and towards the Jordan border in the south.

The Easter holidays and the fertility symbols of the hare and the eggs are said to be derived from the Germanic goddess Eostre or Ostara. But it is probably more likely that they derive from the older Mesopotamian goddess of Ishtar:

Ishtar is the Mesopotamian East Semitic (Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian) goddess of fertility, love, war, and sex. She is the counterpart to the earlier attested Sumerian Inanna, and the cognate for the later attested Northwest Semitic Aramean goddess Astarte. Ishtar was an important deity in Mesopotamian religion which was extant from c.3500 BC, until its gradual decline between the 1st and 5th centuries AD in the face of Christianity.

Interestingly the myth of Ishtar includes her descent into the underworld of death and her resurrection and return to life after higher divine intervention:

One of the most famous myths about Ishtar describes her descent to the underworld. In this myth, Ishtar approaches the gates of the underworld and demands that the gatekeeper open them.  ... The gatekeeper hurried to tell Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld. Ereshkigal told the gatekeeper to let Ishtar enter, but "according to the ancient decree". The gatekeeper let Ishtar into the underworld, opening one gate at a time. At each gate, Ishtar had to shed one article of clothing. When she finally passed the seventh gate, she was naked. ...

After Ishtar descended to the underworld, all sexual activity ceased on earth. The god Papsukal reported the situation to Ea, the king of the gods. Ea created an intersex being called Asu-shu-namir and sent it to Ereshkigal, telling it to invoke "the name of the great gods" against her and to ask for the bag containing the waters of life. Ereshkigal was enraged when she heard Asu-shu-namir's demand, but she had to give it the water of life. Asu-shu-namir sprinkled Ishtar with this water, reviving her. Then, Ishtar passed back through the seven gates, getting one article of clothing back at each gate, and was fully clothed as she exited the last gate.

Ishtar brings us back to Palmyra which hails from the same age:

Palmyra entered the historical record during the Bronze Age around 2000 BC, when Puzur-Ishtar the Tadmorean (Palmyrene) agreed to a contract at an Assyrian trading colony in Kultepe. It was mentioned next in the Mari tablets as a stop for trade caravans and nomadic tribes, such as the Suteans.

Today there is a hotel named Ishtar just a two minute walk away from the ruins of Palmyra. Book it for your next years Easter holiday.

For me Easter (or Ishtar?) is no Easter without rereading Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Easter Walk from his Faust I opus:

Look from this height whereon we find us
Back to the town we have left behind us,

Where from the dark and narrow door
Forth a motley multitude pour.

They sun themselves gladly and all are gay,
They celebrate Christ's resurrection to-day.

For have not they themselves arisen?
From smoky huts and hovels and stables,
From labor's bonds and traffic's prison,
From the confinement of roofs and gables,
From many a cramping street and alley,
From churches full of the old world's night,
All have come out to the day's broad light.

The people of Syria, of Palmyra/Tadmor, have good reason to celebrate today. And to take a happy Easter walk. Happy Easter!

Posted by b on March 27, 2016 at 05:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (67)

March 26, 2016

The Wahhabis' War On Yemen One Year On - When Will Riyadh Fall?

One year ago the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia, supported by the U.S., the Brits and several Gulf states, launched a war against Yemen:

Yesterday the Houthi led rebellion had kicked the Saudi/U.S. installed president Hadi out of the country and took control over most of its cities including the southern capital Aden. The Houthi are allied with the former president Saleh, himself a Houthi and replaced two years ago with his vice president Hadi after a U.S. induced light coup. Saleh and the Houthi are supported by significant parts of the Yemeni army.
...
There seems to be the idea that Saudi/U.S. selected president Hadi, out now, could be reintroduced through force. The U.S. claims that Hadi was "elected" but with a ballot like this any "election" is a mere joke. There is no way Hadi can be reintroduced by force.

A year later the Houthis are no longer in Aden. Saudi proxy troops, which include "western" mercenaries, "liberated" it. But Aden is now infested with Al Qaeda and Islamic State militants who launched several suicide attacks over the last days killing many more people than were recently killed in Belgium. It is known that at least Al Qaeda in Yemen has direct Saudi support and is fighting on its side.

But despite all its proxies, massive bombing and many announcements the Saudis did not get anywhere near the capital Sanaa. Instead Houthi forces attacked Saudi forces within Saudi Arabia and destroyed several hundred Saudi tanks and armored vehicles.

The Saudis and the U.S. and British military supporting them are guilty of war crimes willfully targeting hospitals, schools and civilian infrastructure as well as many people who were not involved in the war. Haykal Bafana talked to BBC Newshour today from Sanaa in Yemen about the war and the Saudi crimes.

Shortly before the war started Pat Lang wrote:

The Houthi descendants of my old acquaintances are not servants of Iran. They are not dangerous to Western interests. They are dangerous to AQAP. Get it? Salih will return. pl

That is as right today as it was a year back. Here are some pictures from Yemen today.

A pro-Saudi demonstration in Yemen as published by Saudi media:

Half of the anti-Saudi demonstration on Sabaeen Square in Sanaa (video) today. Saleh's GPC party had called for it. Former president Saleh attended and the crowd sang the national anthem. Saleh is baaaackk!:

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A separate anti-Saudi demonstration in Rawdah Sanaa. The Houthi had called for this one. Many women attended:

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The Saudis managed to bomb the Yemenis back to Saleh! If the Saudis continue with their war on Yemen, Yemen will survive. But it will be Saudi Arabia that will at the end be destroyed. Riyadh, not Sanaa, will fall.

Posted by b on March 26, 2016 at 01:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (59)

March 25, 2016

Roundup Of Current News On Syria

In January the Jordan King Abdullah talked to a bunch of U.S. lawmakers behind closed doors. He accused Turkey of willfully transferring "refugees" and terrorists to Europe and of doing oil business with ISIS.

Those well founded accusations is not new for anyone who actually followed the issue. What is new is that some U.S. lawmaker felt a need to leak this now:

King Abdullah of Jordan accused Turkey of exporting terrorists to Europe at a top level meeting with senior US politicians in January, the MEE can reveal.

The king said Europe’s biggest refugee crisis was not an accident, and neither was the presence of terrorists among them: “The fact that terrorists are going to Europe is part of Turkish policy and Turkey keeps on getting a slap on the hand, but they are let off the hook.”

Asked by one of the congressmen present whether the Islamic State group was exporting oil to Turkey, Abdullah replied: ”Absolutely.”
...
The king presented Turkey as part of a strategic challenge to the world.

"We keep being forced to tackle tactical problems against ISIL but not the strategic issue. We forget the issue [of] the Turks who are not with us on this strategically."

He claimed that Turkey had not only supported religious groups in Syria, and letting foreign fighters in, but had also been helping Islamist militias in Libya and Somalia.

Abdullah claimed that "radicalisation was being manufactured in Turkey" and asked the US senators why the Turks were training the Somali army.

That Turkey is supporting Jihadis not only in Syria but also in Libya and in the Balkans has been documented but was missing from main stream news. We can hope that some of the bigger media will now pick up on this.

In Syria the Syrian Arab Army is proceeding to envelope the Islamic State held city of Tadmur/Palmyra. It is systematically taking the heights around the city but has not yet brought the fighting deeper into the city. The Islamic State fighters have defended well so far but have no means to counter the heavy Syrian and Russian air strikes that support the ground troops. They are losing a lot of men. There are strong sandstorms announced for the next 72 hour which will make further air support impossible. The Syrian troops would be well advised to hunker down along defensible lines for now and to only take on the city once the sandstorms are over and air support is again available.

In south-west Syria, right next to the Israeli and Jordan border, Shuhada al-Yarmouk is fighting and making gains (map) against U.S. supported insurgents. Shuhada al-Yarmouk is believed to be part of the Islamic State. It has never officially announced such but is led by a known Islamic State commander. One wonders how the group, completely cut off from other Islamic State held areas in east-Syria, can resupply and take care of its wounded. In the past Israel had supported and supplied Jabhat al-Nusra fighters on the Golan heights against the Syrian army. Is it now supporting the Islamic State against U.S. supported insurgents in south Syria?

The talks between Secretary of State Kerry and The Russian President and Foreign Minister have brought no immediate new results. But it is important to see that the U.S. now has to admit that its attempt to "isolate" Russia has failed:

His mission in Moscow centred on Syria, but Kerry also ushered in a warm front, interpreted as a softening of the often-hostile rhetoric between the U.S. and Russia.

Both parties confirmed the UN timetable for steps to be taken by the Syrian government and the opposition. The Russians again emphasized that the Kurdish people in Syria must be involved in the talks. At the same time they warned the Syrian Kurds that any element of autonomy or federation will likely be much less than they envision:

MOSCOW, March 25. /TASS/. Moscow is explaining in its contacts with Kurds that Syria is an indivisible country that should not be broken into parts, Russia's presidential envoy on the Middle East and North Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told reporters on Friday.

One should ignore all the claims that Russia wants to federalize Syria. I see no evidence for that and I believe that Russia knows well that any federalization would be more troublesome than a centralized Syrian state.

Posted by b on March 25, 2016 at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (38)

Open Thread 2016-12

Judas: Still on for Friday?
Jesus: Friday?
Judas: Yeah, the last supper.
Jesus: The what?
Judas: Supper, normal supper with the fellas.

---

News & views ...

Posted by b on March 25, 2016 at 10:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (140)

March 24, 2016

Clinton's Plan To "Defeat ISIS" Is A Threat

Hillary Clinton's three part plan to defeat ISIS is to:

  • Defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria
  • Destroy ISIS everywhere
  • Prevent ISIS attacks in the U.S.A.


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That plan, to me, seems similar to George W. Bush's plan to defeat the Taliban which was to defeat the Taliban. Or maybe more like Nixon's plan to defeat drugs which had nothing to do with drugs but was actually a plan to criminalize blacks and antiwar hippies.

The real motive behind the above Clinton nonsense may be the interest of the powers-that-are to keep the war on ISIS going forever. Obama already did his best to establish ISIS. He refrained from fighting it in its infancy in 2012, refrained from holding it back in Iraq to "regime change" Prime Minister Maliki and kept its revenues flowing until Putin shamed him into finally bombing its oil infrastructure.

Clinton's plan, which declares only aims without any steps to reach them, would mean endless wars in this or that Middle East country and/or in Africa or Asia. It means further suppression of any privacy and opposition at home.

It is not a plan but a threat. Will she win votes with such nonsense?

Posted by b on March 24, 2016 at 02:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (109)

March 22, 2016

Mr. Trump Goes To Washington

Donald Trump toured Washington yesterday for backroom meetings with Republican party bigwigs, for pandering to the Israel lobby and for an examination by the neoconned Washington Post editors.

The Republican party has given up its resistance to Trump. See for example the Republican functionary John Feehery who opined on February 29 that Trump is an authoritarian, and:

We beat the Nazis and the Japanese in the World War II and protected freedom and democracy by beating the Soviet Union in the Cold War. It would be a damn shame if we lost it all by giving in to the authoritarian impulse in this election.

The same guy only twenty-two days later:

Republican voters can support the nominee picked by a majority of the voters, they can sit this election out, or they can start a third party. The last two choices give the White House to the Clinton machine.

I am not happy that Donald Trump could be our nominee, but I am learning to live with that distinct possibility.

That, in short, is the revised position of the Republican party. It has given up on fighting Trump and will now propel him into the White House. What will happen thereafter? Who knows?

Trump is pure marketing. A salesperson throughout. This video explains how his linguistics works - words with only very few syllables, strong buzzword at the end of the sentences. It is fourth grade reading level language. Exactly the level needed to sell his product to the U.S. public and the Republican party. He is an expert in doing this.

But what product does Trump sell? Does he know it? Does he know how that product functions? Is he serious in what he claims that product to be. I have my doubts.

So has Par Lang. He remarks on yesterday's Trump appearance at the U.S. Zionists beauty contests:

Trump's pander was so extreme that one ponders the possibility that he was mocking the audience.

Trump probably does not even care what political product he sells. For now he is selling the salesman himself. Buy Trump and all problems will be solved. He does this convincingly. Most of what he said so far is just nonsense and solely for marketing purpose. There are only few consistent political lines that did not (yet) change over time. These are the lines that rile the Washington Post editors:

Donald Trump endorsed an unabashedly noninterventionist approach to world affairs Monday during a day-long tour of Washington, casting doubt on the need for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and expressing skepticism about a muscular U.S. military presence in Asia.
...
“At what point do you say, ‘Hey, we have to take care of ourselves?’ ” Trump said in the editorial board meeting. “I know the outer world exists, and I’ll be very cognizant of that. But at the same time, our country is disintegrating, large sections of it, especially the inner cities.”

Trump said U.S. involvement in NATO may need to be significantly diminished in the coming years, breaking with nearly seven decades of consensus in Washington. “We certainly can’t afford to do this anymore,” he said, adding later, “NATO is costing us a fortune, and yes, we’re protecting Europe with NATO, but we’re spending a lot of money.”

To this the editors opine:

Unfortunately, the visit provided no reassurance regarding Mr. Trump’s fitness for the presidency. “I’m not a radical person,” he told us as he was leaving. But his answers left little doubt how radical a risk the nation would be taking in entrusting the White House to him.

But who are the real radicals, the real radical risk? The salesperson Trump or the neoconned Washington Post publisher and editors? You may judged that from this excerpt at the end of the talk's transcript:

[FREDERICK RYAN JR., WASHINGTON POST PUBLISHER]: You [MUFFLED] mentioned a few minutes earlier here that you would knock ISIS. You’ve mentioned it many times. You’ve also mentioned the risk of putting American troop in a danger area. If you could substantially reduce the risk of harm to ground troops, would you use a battlefield nuclear weapon to take out ISIS?

TRUMP: I don’t want to use, I don’t want to start the process of nuclear. Remember the one thing that everybody has said, I’m a counterpuncher. Rubio hit me. Bush hit me. When I said low energy, he’s a low-energy individual, he hit me first. I spent, by the way he spent 18 million dollars’ worth of negative ads on me. That’s putting [MUFFLED]…

RYAN: This is about ISIS. You would not use a tactical nuclear weapon against ISIS? [CROSSTALK] ...

The salesperson stopped there. Instead of answering that question Trump asked for personal introduction to the people taking part in the event. To nuke some lunatics in Toyota technicals is not Trumps idea of his product. He would not sell that. Not even for gaining the support of the WaPo neocons.

Buying Trump is buying a pig in a poke. One does not know what one might get. But I find it unlikely that he would pursue an interventionist policy. Then again - George W. Bush also pretended to be a non-interventionist - until that changed.

But Trumps current non-interventionist position is a big contrast to Hillary Clinton. She unashamedly offers her well known toxic brew of neo-liberal and neo-conservative orthodoxy. She will wage war, Trump may. As a foreigner that is the decisive difference to me.

But if I were a voter in the U.S. my position would be based on economic policies. There Bernie Sanders is surely preferable to Trump and very much preferable to Clinton.

Posted by b on March 22, 2016 at 01:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (115)

March 21, 2016

How Do Weekly Demonstrations Indicate A Lack Of Free Speech?

This sentence, in a typical Guardian human rights sniveler piece about Cuba, has me confused:

“I’ve been detained and beaten countless times,” said Eralidis Frómeta Polanco, an activist who turned up in the all-white clothes of the demonstrators, who march silently along 5th Avenue each week in protest at the lack of freedom of expression. [emphasis added]

What actual "freedom of expression" do these people claim to lack? It is obviously not the freedom to publicly demonstrate each week. So what is it?

My hunch is that these are the typical rabble rousing agitators who accompany each and every U.S. "regime change" attempt. By promoting these the Guardian is propagandizing the weaponization of human rights. "Regime change", chaos and atrocities are allowed if done behind the veil of promoting a few selected human rights like some freedom of expression. Indeed, the U.S. government co-opted "human rights" (vid, start at ~10min) as pretext for nefarious deeds.

But what about the human right to work, the human right to equal pay, the human right to just and favorable remuneration, the human right of an adequate standard of living or the human right to free education? Cuba is a champion of promoting these rights while the U.S. is shunning all human rights whenever it fits its purpose. When was the last time Human Rights Watch, or the Guardian, has called out for economic and social human rights? Would they ever support "moderate rebels" who fight for those?

Posted by b on March 21, 2016 at 05:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (77)

March 19, 2016

A U.S. 2016 (S)Election Circus Threat

Your likely choices:


Pics via Billmon

Posted by b on March 19, 2016 at 02:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (109)

March 18, 2016

The Islamic State Is Pretext To Again Mug Libya

There are currently two governments in Libya. A "moderately Islamist" one in the west in Tripoli and one in the east in Tobruk. The eastern one is internationally recognized and "secular" but also supported by some Salafist groups. Both governments have their own parliament and various supporting militia. In the middle of the long east-west coastline the Islamic State led by some cadres from Iraq and Syria has taken a foothold in Sirte. It is recruiting followers from north Africa and moving to capture nearby oilfields to finance its further expansion.

The "west" is alarmed about this development and wants to intervene with military force. Special forces from several countries are already on the ground. But both governments and their parliaments do not want such foreign intervention.

The UN or someone came up with the glorious idea of creating a third government which is supposed to supersede the two existing ones. The task of this third government will be to "invite" foreign forces and to rubber-stamp whatever they will do. That third government is now constituted in Tunisia and has zero power on the ground in Libya:

[T]here is no guarantee that the other factions will back down. So what is a war between two rival governments backed by militias risks becoming a war among three rival governments, none of which recognize the others ..

Naturally the Libyans hate that idea of a foreign imposed government. They will likely fight any third force that tries to usurp their sovereignty. Confronted with a foreign imposed government and foreign military forces more Libyans will join the Islamic State to fight the intruders. The shortsightedness of the UN and the "western" governments on this issue is breathtaking.

But there is still a lot of money to be made in Libya and especially the French and British governments want to keep robbing the country blind. This requires some feet on the ground. The "brain" and a likely main profiteer behind all this seems to be one well known figure.

A revealing piece in the Times of Malta describes some of the astonishing political-business connections behind the scenes:

[A] major military operation by a collection of foreign powers is in the works to tackle Isis and install a UN-backed government but the shabby way it has been put together carries the risk it will blow back in everyone’s faces.

First, there is the strange situation that [Britain’s Ambassador to Libya, Peter] Millett takes his orders from Britain’s Libya envoy, Jonathan Powell, a contractor to the FCO. Yes, the same Powell who, along with then prime minister Tony Blair, brokered the deal with Muammar Gaddafi to end his dictatorship’s isolation a decade ago - and lead to fat Blair consultancies with that same tyrant after the prime minister left office.

Among other beneficiaries of this new opening up of Gaddafi’s dictatorship was a massive property development contract handed out to a company chaired by none other than Powell’s brother, Lord Charles Powell, which also involved an array of colourful London-based, well-known Arab millionaires. Which makes Powell more of a close relative of an interested party.

Libya is awash with weapons and munitions of all kinds and these are bought and sold in open markets. With the right amount of money one can easily buy powerful anti-tank weapons or anti-air guns readily installed on the ubiquitous Toyota technicals. But Britain also wants to sell, not buy weapons:

Millett revealed that he wants to sell Libya yet more [weapons] - but only to the ‘right’ militias, that is, those supporting the new UN-backed government of national accord (GNA).

The GNA, designed to replace Libya’s two warring governments, in Tripoli and Tobruk, is the cornerstone of Western policy in Libya, designed to unite the country to turn its united guns on Isis. Hence the weapons.

Millett insists the weapons will only go to the ‘right’ militias, an echo of a Western statement about supporting the ‘right kind’ of terrorists in Syria in the war against Isis.

Here now comes the real business part with the most valuable piece being the Libyan Investment Authority with some $65 billion in assets. This fond is owned by the Libyan people but whoever controls it will be able to siphon off tons of money:

Much of the fallout for this clumsy step to create a third government for Libya will be felt in Malta, where commercial battles rage between the two existing Libyan governments over control of a host of enterprises headquartered here - and which are soon to have unity government leaders also pushing for control.

The Valletta court battle for the public telecommunications company LPTIC highlighted the complicated split and a new tussle is underway for control of the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), the Tobruk-appointed office of which is situated in Malta.

For now, the LIA battle is in London but in a bizarre twist the case was last week controversially stopped in mid flow on advice from Britain’s Foreign Office.

The judge making the order, which keeps both existing governments from getting their hands on this $65 billion asset, is none other than William Blair, brother of - you guessed it, Tony.

Never mind that Tony worked with the LIA in the latter Gaddafi years.

Conflict of interest?

Well, you decide. But to me this looks like another coup in the making this time by introducing a third government that will be completely controlled by foreigners. All this not to "fight the Islamic State" but for Tony Blair and others to control and rob whatever assets the Libyans have left. (How, by the way, is the Clinton Foundation involved in this?)

I can not think of any positive outcome this hapless robbery attempt under the disguise of fighting the Islamic State will have for Libya and its people. Or for the people of those countries who's "elites" now again move to wage war on Libya.

Posted by b on March 18, 2016 at 01:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (43)

March 17, 2016

Open Thread 2016-11

News & views ...

Posted by b on March 17, 2016 at 12:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (211)

March 16, 2016

Syrian Kurds Risk Their Gains With New Federalization Demands

Everyone seems to agree that the recent Russian surprise move in Syria is to its advantage. The Russian government declared that it had achieved most of its aims in Syria and decided to continue its operations there with a smaller forces. As the current ceasefire seem to hold the necessity of further air attacks is much diminished. About half of its planes in Syria were ordered to fly back home. Significant forces will stay deployed and the planes could be back within 24 hours should the need arise.

A Russian source on the ground explains how this fits into a larger plan:

Russia has managed to turn the balance of power up side down in six months of its intervention in Syria. Regardless the control of a vast strategic land to the regime in Damascus, the Kremlin forces all parties to sit with Assad representative around the Geneva table when these were rejecting the idea for the last four years of war. Russia is pushing for a free election, within the area under the regime and the rebels’ control, under the supervision of the United Nations.
...
Russia, according to high-ranking sources, informed Washington, Damascus and Tehran of its step of reducing forces in Syria. The Kremlin expects from the United States to exert its promises to impose on regional parties, i.e. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, to stop all sorts of weapons and financial supply to all rebels without exception. The USA is confident to obtain from its regional allies in the Middle East this commitment at the cost of joining the bombing, with Russia, of all those willing to continue fighting and violate the open-date Cease-fire in Syria. Saudi Arabia and Turkey see no longer Syria as a possibility to implement their old plans and agreed to act accordingly.

We will see if the U.S. is really committed to this plan. Will it stop arming al-Qaeda or will it launch another crazy attempt to achieve "regime change" in Syria.

It would be out of character for Washington to just let go and to let Russia win the cause. That is why I suspect that the U.S. somehow arranged the following scheme.

The Syrian Kurds have no place at the table in Geneva. Russia has pushed for their inclusion but failed. Still the Kurds are in a decent position. They have military support from the U.S. as well as Russia and the Syrian government has agreed to give them some form of autonomy.

It would have been smart of the Kurds, led by the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), to bag these achievements and to stay out of the way of the further process. The Russians can be trusted to take care of the Kurdish interests in Geneva. But in typical Kurdish fashion they try to go for more and overreach:

A powerful Syrian Kurdish political party announced plans Wednesday to declare a federal region in northern Syria, a model it hopes can be applied to the entire country. The idea was promptly dismissed by Turkey and also the Syrian government team at U.N.-brokered peace talks underway in Geneva.

The declaration was expected to be made at the end of a Kurdish conference that began Wednesday in the town of Rmeilan in Syria's northern Hassakeh province.

The Kurds already have autonomy and there were only few, if any, clashes with the Syrian government. There is no need for them to unilaterally federalize some parts of Syria. There is nothing to win with a federalization that no one else will recognize. To demand federalization now is like opening a can of nasty worms just the moment everyone set down to have a nice meal.

Even worse:

Tensions are high in the Al-Qamishli District today, as the Kurdish “Assayish” forces surround the National Defense Forces (NDF) at the Al-Qamishli security box. Reports from the Al-Qamishli District claim that the Assayish forces have arrested several NDF fighters in what is expected to be their expulsion from northern Syria.
...
The Al-Qamishli District is ethnically diverse, with Kurds, Assyrians, Armenians, and Arabs all living in this densely populated region.
The Assayish Forces will have their hands full if they attempt to seize all of the government-controlled area because the Assyrian “Gozarto Protection Forces” (GPF) are heavily armed and make-up one of the largest militias in the Al-Hasakah Governorate.

So just as everyone is calming down and working on a political solution the Kurds throw a wrench in the works and start a new fight with Syrian government forces.

I do not understand such thinking. Whatever the future political situation in Syria will be, the Kurds will not gain a viable independent state. The Turks hate them and are instigating new schemes against them by supporting their own splinter Kurdish proxy group. The Barzani mafia in north Iraq does not like the PKK/YPK Kurds at all. Neither Russia nor the U.S. will promise them any long term (financial) support. Whatever they try, the Kurds will continue to depend on the capabilities and monies of a Syrian nation state with the capitol in Damascus. They do not have any income source. Attempts to export oil would be blocked by its neighbors and their borders can not be secured without heavy weapons. 

Why upset the Syrian government and its armed forces when the gains made so far are still reversible?

I can think of no sound reason for the Syrian YPG Kurds to do this now. But it may well be that someone in Washington (or elsewhere?) thought that it would be funny to upset the playing board by pushing the Kurds to take these self-defeating steps. But why would the Kurds agree to do this?

UPDATE: As speculated above the PYD Kurds where told by Washington to do this. See the NYT report quoted here.

Posted by b on March 16, 2016 at 10:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (97)

March 14, 2016

Putin: Withdrawal Of Russian Forces From Syria Starting March 15

This is an extremely interesting and likely very smart move. Putin again catches everyone off guard.

TASS reports:

Putin orders to begin withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria from March 15

March 14, 20:40 UTC+3

The Russian leader hopes the withdrawal of Russian troops will become a good motivation for launching negotiations between political forces in the country

MOSCOW, March 14. /TASS/. Putin orders Russian defense minister to begin withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria from March 15.

The Russian president said he hopes the start of the withdrawal of Russian troops will become a good motivation for launching negotiations between political forces of that country and instructed the foreign minister to intensify Russia’s participation in organization of peace process in Syria.

Via other sources Putin said: The armed forces achieved their goals in Syria. The two Air Force and Naval bases in Syria will stay and operate normally. The move was in agreement with the Syrian government.

I believe that, for this to have happened, there must be a deal in place with the U.S. to wind up the Syria situation. What did Putin get in return?

And what units will actually pull out? Three military cooks departing while civilians take up their jobs?

The tide of the war on Syria has changed. There is no longer a danger that Assad will lose the fight.

There were some Russian artillery and special forces units taking part in the ground operations in north Latakia. Latakia is now mostly cleaned up and the Russian bases there are no longer in danger. (The S-400 air defense will of course stay.) Will these troops now be pulled out?

Or is this, as announced, an "incentive" to put some urgency on progress in the Geneva negotiations?  (An "incentive" that can be taken back should it not have the intended results.)

One can also think of this as a message to the U.S. to get serious: "Don't take our help in fighting ISIS for granted. We can simply secure Assad and leave. Then you alone will have to clean up the Jihadi mess you created."

Posted by b on March 14, 2016 at 01:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (135)

U.S. Politicians Discuss Accountability

At Nancy Reagan's funeral George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton discussed the prospects of being held accountable.


bigger (source)

 

Posted by b on March 14, 2016 at 10:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (45)

March 13, 2016

Syria: Another CIA Supplied Group Hands Its Weapons To Al-Qaeda

Syria's Idleb province is held by Jabhat al-Nusra, aka al-Qaeda in Syria, and Ahrar al Sham with a sprinkling of "moderates" added to the mix. While Nusra and Ahrar have support from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the "moderates" are supported by the CIA which provides them with anti-tank weapons.

When in 2013 these groups stormed government held positions in Idleb, Nusra, Ahrar and Islamic State Jihadis were leading the fighting and employed suicide bombers. Their attacks were supported by electronic warfare measures from Turkey which disabled the Syrian Army's communication. The CIA "moderates" were integrated as anti-tank teams using their U.S. supplied weapons in support of the Jihadi offense.

The U.S. supported groups in Idleb are currently grouped under the moniker "Division 13" or "Brigade 13". The cessation of hostilities in Syria means that all these "moderates" in Idleb province have time to discuss their ideological differences. Jenan Moussa (@JenanMoussa) is the "Roving reporter Arabic Al Aan TV. Based in Dubai but roams around MidEast". She reports on Syria from a mostly pro-opposition standpoint and has long favored "moderate" as well as "not-so-moderate" Jihadis.

Here are some of here recent tweets:

Jenan Moussa @jenanmoussa

Jenan Moussa Retweeted ياسين ابو رائد

Nusra attacks FSA supporters protesting Assad in #Idleb province. Nusra bans FSA flags, allows only Jihadi banners.

4:44 AM - 11 Mar 2016

Yesterday Nusra had meeting in Idleb with activists & local Syrian journalist urging them all not to carry FSA flags, only Jihadi banners.

Here full video of Nusra attack on protestors in Maaret ElNoman. Its seriously amazing some dared to carry FSA flag https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=D-_ymP4BMxo

Anti regime protests also in Sarmada, Harem &Darkoush in Idleb province. Protestors carried both FSA &Jihadi banners

In Nusra mentality, FSA flag seen as 'pro-democracy &pro-secularism'. They have banned it but can't yet enforce ban in their territories.

Moment when Nusra attacked AbuElias AlMaaeri, local anti-Assad celebrity. They took his mic for singing FSA slogans https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CdRReICWEAAq-sa.jpg

On Saturday some reports from Idleb claimed that Division 13 fighters, enraged that their propaganda protests were disrupted by Nusra, attacked some Nusra positions and fighters in Idleb.

Charles Lister @Charles_Lister

BIG:

FSA's Division 13 has launched raids on Jabhat al-Nusra bases in Marat al-Numan (24hrs after clashes at opposition Friday protest).

11:11 AM - 12 Mar 2016

#Idlib rebel dynamics are hotting up pre-#Geneva talks: Division 13 denies attacking Nusra in Marat al-Numan: pic.twitter.com/2dpQLpYvcd

Then came the counter(?) offense by Nusra.

Jenan Moussa @jenanmoussa

#BREAK Nusra (AlQaeda in Syria) is right now attacking HQ of FSA-group "Brigade 13" in Maraat Nouman, Khan Sheikhun, AlGhadfa, Jbala &Heesh>

3:18 PM - 12 Mar 2016

Nusra (AlQaeda Syria) is trying 2destroy last FSA groups in Idlib, who r already weak. Just like Nusra destroyed Jamal Marouf &Hazem before.

If thing continue like this, FSA group division 13 will cease 2 exit in morning. Nusra (AlQaeda in Syria) will destroy them tonight.

Nusra (AlQaeda in Syria) kills 4 FSA fighters from Division 13 as they attack their HQs in Maaret AlNoman. #Idlib

Nusra (AlQaeda in #Syria) &Jund AlAqsa gathering their troops 2 attack main HQ of FSA division 13 in Maaret Noman.

I am hearing that Nusra (AlQaeda in Syria) confiscated weapons of FSA Division13. If true, Division 13 receives U.S weapons including TOWs.

FSA Brigade13 says their main specialist in firing (US-supplied) TOW rockets at SAA tanks "attacked w/ RPG by Nusra"

2 versions. Nusra says FSA attacked us first. FSA says we are weaker why would we attack? Nusra attacked us first.

And that, dear folks, was the predictable end of the last "moderate" Jihadi group with direct U.S. support in Idleb. The CIA supplied weapons, lots of TOWs but allegedly also including anti-air MANPADs, are now, like on earlier occasions, in the hands of al-Qaeda.

Excellent job Mr. Brennan!

Posted by b on March 13, 2016 at 03:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (58)

March 12, 2016

NYT Conceals U.S. Control Over Anti-Russian "Pro-Democracy Nonprofit"

What is a pro-democracy nonprofit?

Pro-Democracy Nonprofit Is Banned in Russia

MOSCOW — A nonprofit group that promotes democracy has become the latest American-linked group to be banned in Russia under restrictions on “undesirable” organizations signed into law by President Vladimir V. Putin in May.

The office of Russia’s prosecutor general on Thursday outlawed the group, the National Democratic Institute, claiming in a statement that the it posed “a threat to the foundations of Russia’s constitutional order and national security.”

The above quoted NYT piece studiously avoids to describe what the "pro-democracy nonprofit" really is. There is no mention at all of its sources of money or its relations to non-Russian governments.

The National Democratic Institute, a group promoting democracy and civil society, had operated in Russia directly since the late 1980s, but it decided to close its offices there in 2012, according to its website. It has continued to establish programs in Russia through partner organizations, however. Madeleine K. Albright, an former United States secretary of state, is its chairwoman.

When asked about U.S. sanctions against Iraq Madeleine Albright once said (vid) that 500,000 killed Iraqi children were "worth it". Any organization led by here must surely be a morally good. But who pays it? And what for? 

To know what exactly this "nonprofit" is, is certainly relevant to understand the Russian position. But the NYT writer hides from the readers the fact that the NDI is a U.S. government financed organization. It is a "nonprofit organization" in the same sense that the U.S. Armed Forces are a "nonprofit organization". The NDI has been involved throughout the years in dozens of right-wing "regime change" coups. Its direct parent organization is the U.S. National Endowment of Democracy:

The private, congressionally funded NED has been a controversial tool in U.S. foreign policy because of its support of efforts to overthrow foreign governments. As the writers Jonah Gindin and Kirsten Weld remarked in the January/February 2007 NACLA Report on the Americas: "Since [1983], the NED and other democracy-promoting governmental and nongovernmental institutions have intervened successfully on behalf of 'democracy'—actually a very particular form of low-intensity democracy chained to pro-market economics—in countries from Nicaragua to the Philippines, Ukraine to Haiti, overturning unfriendly 'authoritarian' governments (many of which the United States had previously supported) and replacing them with handpicked pro-market allies."[2]

NED works principally through four core institutes: the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDIIA or NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), and the Center for International Private Enterprise—representing, respectively, the country's two major political parties, organized labor, and the business community.

To call the NDI and its brothers and sisters non-government organization is obviously wrong. To call them "pro-democracy" is only right when one has some fondness for the peculiar kind of "democracy" in foreign countries that sets U.S. business interests above the interest of its own people.

What the Russian prosecutor general kicked out of Russia is obviously a U.S. government organization. The NDI was acting clandestinely by secretly financing local groups in Russia which work against the duly elected Russian government and against the interest of the Russian people.

But the petty-minded NYT, with its slavishly U.S. centric view, can not allow its readers to learn such facts.

Posted by b on March 12, 2016 at 12:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (48)

March 10, 2016

'The Obama Doctrine' Is To Whitewash His Foreign Policy

The Atlantic publishes Obama's great whitewashing of his own foreign policy. It is the result of a series of interviews with Jefferey Goldberg written up into one gigantic piece under the headline "The Obama Doctrine". Throughout the piece Goldberg and Obama touch various foreign policy issues, mainly in the Middle East.

The ostensible purpose is to refute hawkish critics of Obama who say that he has not been militaristic enough or was 'leading from behind.' Judging from comments to the piece in various media the readers seem to fall for that. But the real purpose of the piece is to hide the militaristic, dangerous to catastrophic decision Obama has made on many foreign policy issues.

The real Obama has used the military to wage open or hidden wars in more countries than any president since the second world war. Obama has ordered thousands of unknown people be killed by drone strikes in ten or so countries. He has used clandestine means for illegitimate regime change from Honduras over Ukraine to Iraq where, as he admitted in an earlier interview, let the evil of ISIS grow for the sole purpose of ousting Prime Minister Maliki. Instead of making room for the inevitable growth of China, Obama is preparing to wage a preemptive war against it.

The whitewash includes a lot of juicy, diverting quotes that many people will like. It bitches about foreign paid think tanks in Washington and the Saudis. It lambastes Cameron and Sarkozy. It badmouths his own hawkish advisers.

When it discusses why Obama let his 'red line' on chemical weapons in Syria slip and did not bomb the country it tries to paint Obama's decisions on Syria as sensible and reasoned. But what is sensible or reasoned in ordering the CIA to ship thousands of Jihadis, recycled from his war on Libya and earlier conflicts, to Syria? What is peaceful in arming and paying sectarian "rebels" with billions of dollars to overthrow the legitimate Syrian government? The piece does not mention those facts and the interviewer never touches those questions.

Obama criticizes the Saudis and Iran for waging proxy wars in Syria and Yemen. But Iran came in only after Obama and the Saudis waged war on those countries. Without him Yemen would not be bombed and Syria would be peaceful. It is he who enables the Saudi misdeeds.

On Libya the president blames France and Britain for dropping the ball after Ghaddafi was killed. But it was the U.S. that enabled and directed the war, flew most attacks, dropped 7,700 bombs and had its people on the ground training and organizing the Jihadis for attacks on government positions. Here the fake 'leading from behind' is used to blame the allies when the inevitable consequences of the war, the destruction of the functioning state Libya, appear.

In general the piece is somewhat interesting and shows some insight into Obama's thinking. But if you take the hour that is at least needed to read it keep in mind that this was published for a purpose. Obama is preparing his next career step. With the Goldberg interviews and this piece he is attempting to wash the blood off his hands and to whitewash his legacy.

Posted by b on March 10, 2016 at 01:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (135)

March 09, 2016

Ignatius, Off His Meds, Has Syria Delusions

The public relation functionary for the CIA, the Pentagon, Israel and the Saudis - David Ignatius of the Washington Post - forgot to take his meds. Thus he experienced an outbreak of acute delusions:

The campaign in eastern Syria is directed by about 50 U.S. Special Operations forces now on the ground there, joined by about 20 French and perhaps a dozen British commandos. They’re working with about 40,000 Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters dubbed the Syrian Democratic Forces; all but about 7,000 are from the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the YPG.

Those numbers are waaay off. The more realistic numbers are some 10,000 YPG and some 1,000 Arabs. Even those numbers include lots of village guards that can not be counted on as soldiers. The core forces are in the low thousands.

U.S. commanders hope soon to augment the U.S. ground force in Syria to about 300 troops who can train and assist these fighters. With this broader U.S. base of operations inside Syria, it’s hoped that special forces from other countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, could play a role there.

Us.commanders may "hope" that they will be allowed 300 more forces on the ground. But I doubt that the Obama administration will now agree to such an escalation. It would risk to spoil the current understandings with the Russians. Likewise with the UAE contingent.

The next stage in the assault may come to the west of Raqqa. Syrian fighters backed by Turkish commandos appear poised to move south from Jarabulus, where the Euphrates River crosses from Turkey into Syria, toward the area around Manbij. Other U.S.-backed forces hold the Tishrin Dam, about 55 miles northwest of Raqqa. The Turkish-led campaign could finally close the gap in its border, through which the Islamic State has maintained its supply lines.

What a load of bollocks. The Turkish military has said laud and clear that will not commit any forces to Syria without an explicit UN mandate. No such mandate is likely to pass.

The "other U.S. backed forces" at the Tishirn Dam are YPG Kurds. The Turks have declared them to be terrorists and the Kurds see any Turkish soldier as their enemy. There is no way that they would let Turkish commandos pass towards Manbij. And why does Turkey need to invade Syria to close the "gap in its border"? How about closing the border on the Turkish side as is usual. Are there Mexican troops in Texas to close the southern U.S. border "gap"? If the Turks would invade through Jarablus their aim would be to protect their allies in the Islamic State, to keep the logistic line to it open and to fight the Kurds. The Ignatius take is completely off from any reality.

A limited southern push toward Raqqa was begun recently by a small unit of Jordanian and British special forces that captured a former regime outpost in southeastern Syria, close to the Iraqi and Jordanian borders.

Here is news Mr Ignatius. The "capture" of Al Tanaf crossing by some Jordanian trained Syrian "rebels" and with U.S. air support failed. The crossing is still in the hands of the Islamic State.

In Ignatius' fairy tale book the Syrian government forces and its allies are nowhere to be seen fighting against the Islamic State. But is the Syrian Arab Army and its allies who are squeezing the Islamic State from the west and the south with the current attacks on Palmyra, south-east of Aleppo and towards Tabqa. It is the Syrian army that is defending some 200,000 civilians which are besieged in Deir Ezzor. It is the Syrian army that just launched a big operation in the south-eastern desert that will clear the approaches towards Raqqa and Deir Ezzor.

A sane policy discussion on Syria will never take place in the U.S. when the news consists of such insane fantasies.

Posted by b on March 9, 2016 at 09:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (78)

March 07, 2016

U.S. Central Command Promotes The War On Yemen Where Al-Qaeda Is The Only Winner

Daniel Larison recaps the War on Yemen:

The Saudi-led intervention has been going on for over eleven months, and in that time it has failed in all of its stated objectives. The Houthis have not been driven from the capital, the former president has not be restored to power (not that most Yemenis would want him there now anyway), and the intervention certainly hasn’t produced the stability that the Saudis laughably claimed to be bringing.
...
Yemenis have been sorely deprived of basic necessities for almost an entire year thanks to the Saudi-led blockade, and the majority of the population is starving or at great risk of doing so. At least four-fifths of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance. The country’s health care system has all but collapsed, medical facilities are coming under repeated attack (including repeated bombings by coalition aircraft), medicine and fuel are in short supply, and the lack of access to clean water has made the spread of disease much worse. Every problem Yemen had before the intervention has grown far worse than it was, and the country’s infrastructure has been wrecked by the coalition bombing campaign that the U.S. supports.
...
Since the Saudis and their allies started pummeling Yemen with indiscriminate bombing and the use of inherently indiscriminate cluster munitions last March, the U.S. has been reliably backing the Saudis in this unnecessary and indefensible war with weapons, refueling, and intelligence. The U.S. has helped the Saudis to whitewash and obscure their crimes, and the Obama administration has done this despite credible reports from multiple human rights organizations and the U.N. that the Saudi-led coalition is likely guilty of war crimes and possibly even crimes against humanity.

The U.S. not only continues to whitewash the Saudi crimes but is still actively propagandizing and reinforcing the false Saudi claim that Iran is in cahoots with the Houthis. I have yet to see even one picture from the war in Yemen that shows any Iranian weapon or munition. There are lots of pictures though that show Houthis using weapons they pilfered from incompetent Saudi troops or their proxies.

The Australian navy today captured a weapon smuggling ship in the Arab sea. They reported:

The Australian Navy said that one of its ships patrolling the region, the HMAS Darwin, intercepted a small, stateless fishing vessel about 170 nautical miles off the coast of Oman when it made the discovery.

On board they found more than 2,000 pieces of weaponry -- including 1,989 AK-47 assault rifles and 100 rocket-propelled grenades.
...
An Australian Defense Ministry spokesman told CNN there were 18 people of various nationalities on board the ship, but officials could not initially confirm that their identification documents were valid.

Authorities believe the weapons were headed for Somalia based on interviews with crew members, but that information is preliminary and may change as the investigation continues, the spokesman said.

Someone bought 2,000 old AK47s and some RPGs, maybe in Iraq or elsewhere in the Gulf, to sell them in Somalia. That makes sense. There is an ongoing civil war in Somalia and selling weapons there has little risk.

But here is the U.S. Central Command making up nonsense about the Australian find:

According to a U.S. assessment, the weapons were believed to be initially sent from Iran and were likely intended for Houthi rebels in Yemen, Lt. Ian McConnaughey with the U.S. Navy told CNN.

U.S. Central Command is still gathering more information to determine the arms' final destination, McConnaughey said.

There is zero evidence for that claim that these are weapons from Iran on their way to Yemen. Indeed the circumstances as reported by the Australians seem to make that unlikely. But the CNN report, from which the above is taken, is headlined Weapons seized by Australia may have come from Iran, intended for Houthis thus supporting the false Saudi claims.

Yemen is flooded with weapons. The Saudi have several times dropped thousands of new weapons to their proxy forces in south Yemen. Many of those weapons were seized by the Houthis and those that reached the Saudi proxies were immediately sold off to the highest bidder. Every modern assault rifle one might think of is available in Sanaa's weapon markets. Why would anyone ship old AK47 to Yemen where even the poorest households already have better weapons?

Remarks a Yemeni analyst:

Hisham Al-Omeisy @omeisy

So Iran sent 1989 low grade AK47s & 100 RPGs to a #Yemen already flooded w/ better AK47s & RPGs! What am I missing?

And another one:

Haykal Bafana @BaFana3

2nd time the US is claiming that Somalia-bound arms are "Iran weapons to Houthis Yemen" delivery. Almost as if DC is prodding Saudi Arabia.

The war in Yemen can not be won by the Saudis or their proxies on the ground. The mercenary company Blackwater/Xe had been hired to provide a battalion of foreign fighters. These tried to capture Taiz from the Houthis but were routed. They were pulled out after taking too many casualties. Now the Saudis spend another $3 billion and hired Dyncorp to provide more cannon fodder. There is no way the Saudis or their mercenaries can win the war and no sane reason to give them any further support.

Banks have stopped to certify letters of credit for food imports to Yemen and those few ships which still come to Yemen have to pay huge bribes to be allowed to unload. The famine in Yemen will intensify over the next months. More people will die.

Meanwhile Al-Qaeda is occupying more and more land in south Yemen and is winning the hearts and minds of the hungry locals:

Saudi Arabia needs all the possible help to come out of Yemen with less damage possible. It is accusing Iran of intervening in its backyard, raising tension between the two countries. The nervousness reached its peak when a video leaked to the Saudi, showing pro-Iranian Lebanese Hezbollah  Video [alternative source] training Houthis in Intelligence warfare inside Yemen, confirmed authentic to me by sources close to Hezbollah leadership. Therefore, it is not surprising to see reports on a collaboration between the Saudi-led coalition and Ansar al-Sharia (AQAP) for the battle against the Zaydi Houthis as the tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran increases.

Ansar al-Sharia come out as the absolute winner, offering infrastructure support, “recruiting” through activities, public service and games to win the “hearts and the minds”.

Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, aka Ansar al-Sharia, is the only party winning in Yemen. It several times attempted to target U.S. civilians and is listed by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. It is fighting on the side of the Saudis.

But the U.S. military in the Gulf has nothing better to do than to promote the false Saudi narrative about the war on Yemen. For whom are these U.S. Central Command folks really working?

Posted by b on March 7, 2016 at 01:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (65)

March 06, 2016

Syria - Preparing For The Next Major Push

There seems to be some progress in the regional "games" around the conflict in Syria. The Turkish Prime minister Davutoglu currently visits Iran. The Iranians let some lucrative economic projects dangle in front of his eyes. But the main points were about Syria. According to this Turkish source Davutoglu said these issues were agreed upon:

taylieli @taylieli

#Turkish PM Davutoglu: We've reached on deal with #Iran for 5 matters: 1) A joint visit to #Jordan to discuss on #Syria, on coming days (1)

2) The continuity of ceasfire in #Syria
3) The unity of #Syria
4) The participitation of all -internal- actors in #Syria's future (2)

5) The joint act to defeat all kind of terrorism inc. #Isil in the geography of #ME. (3)

This smells like an bit of  change in the so far rigid Turkish position.

Russian military transport traffic through the Bosporus has markedly increased. A lot of new trucks, tanks and artillery are coming to Syria. In the summer the Russian aircraft carrier will take station at the Syrian coast. This is likely the build up for a major campaign.

Meanwhile the U.S. is building a second (small) airport in north east Syria to, allegedly, support its Kurdish proxy forces there in the fight against the Islamic State. Syria and Russia should be very careful in allowing such creeping occupation. It is difficult to get rid of such U.S. incursions once they are established.

On Friday another U.S trained, paid and armed force, probably only a few dozen or so, attacked the Syria-Iraq border crossing at Tanaf which was in the hand of the Islamic State. The "rebel" marketing campaign claimed that this group was the "New Syrian Army". The border crossing is also near the Jordan border from where these fighters came. They had U.S. (or Jordan) air support and managed to capture the handful of lone buildings in the desert that constitute the station. But 24 hours later the Islamic State said it was again in full control of it. If true, and I believe it is, this "new Syrian army" is a sad joke and will not play a role in the race to Raqqa.

In total everyone seems to use the current relative quiet of the "cessation of hostilities" to move into launch positions for a possibly final campaign against IS and the other objectionable subjects.  It will be a hot summer in Syria.

 

Posted by b on March 6, 2016 at 01:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (71)

March 05, 2016

Open Thread 2016-10

News & views ...

Posted by b on March 5, 2016 at 01:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (221)

March 04, 2016

Whereas The Paper Of Record Gauges The Big (Or Small?) Global Question

A 'newspaper of record'..

.. is a major newspaper that has a large circulation and whose editorial and news-gathering functions are considered professional and typically authoritative.

As such the trusted New York Times reliably ponders the most important topics of U.S. and global polices. Here is an outstanding example:

 

bigger - Link

After spending some 350 well chosen words examining the issue at hand, the distinguished author concludes:

So, yes, the size of Trump’s penis matters ...

We should all be proud to merit such epiphany.

I admire the ease with which Trump suborns the media to provide him their megaphone. When Marco Rubio attacked Trump's manhood there was little media reaction. Trump's response to Rubio is followed up by a series of headlines.

As one observer noted:

@MaxAbrahms
The Media:

"Trump is debasing American politics with his disgusting antics. Now let's replay his penis comment one more time!"

When the august NYT decides that the size of Trump's penis it is now a big (or small?) question that matters, Trump wins.

No wonder he is the last man standing while the others exit the stage.

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Posted by b on March 4, 2016 at 01:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (144)

March 03, 2016

Russia Is 'Weaponizing' ... Everything

NATO Commander Breedlove agrees, naturally, with LunaticOutpost.com.

Russia is 'weaponizing' everything: robotic cockroaches, MS Word files, Jedi mind tricks, Soviet history and Syrian immigrants. Whatever one might think of.

 

Posted by b on March 3, 2016 at 07:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (81)

March 02, 2016

Kerry's "Plan B" - Attack Syria From Lebanon - With Saudi and Turkish Help

We yesterday described what looks like a Turkish-Saudi plan to raise a Salafi-Sunni militia in north Lebanon to then attack nearby Syrian regions held by the Syrian government. Such a new front of the conflict in Syria would necessarily involve fighting in Lebanon as the Lebanese Shia Hizbollah movement is actively supporting the Syrian government. The plot would destabilize Lebanon, probably throwing it back into the brutal times of the Lebanese civil war.

There was no confirmation of such a plot yesterday, just several signs for it like the ship with weapons from Turkey that was caught by the Greek coastguard on its way to north Lebanon.

The existence of such a plan was confirmed today. We still can no say for sure that the plot is part of a U.S. "Plan B" to achieve a violent "regime change" in Syria, but we know that the U.S. is informed about the plan.

In his Washington Post column today the unofficial CIA spokesperson David Ignatius writes about the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman:

The young Saudi has sometimes been more bold than wise, as in his war in Yemen, his decision to break diplomatic relations with Iran and his new effort to destabilize a Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon.

Syria is not mentioned in that part of the Ignatius column but any capable Sunni militia in Lebanon, created from Salafist groups in Tripoli and Syrian Sunni refugees in Lebanese camps, would extend itself into Syria and become a threat to the government held western Syria.

Ignatius, as surely also the U.S. government, was informed by the Saudis themselves. The above quoted paragraph continues:

But his role as a change agent is unmistakable. He “wants to transition Saudi Arabia very quickly,” said Adel al-Toraifi, the Saudi information minister, who’s just 36 himself, in a visit to Washington last week.

My hunch is that this plan is too bold to have grown solely in the minds of the Turkish and Saudi regimes. The U.S. is likely not only informed about it but deeply involved. The possibility of such a plan to counter the recent Syrian and Russian successes on the battlefield was first mentioned in a piece published in early February by the Washington Institute, a think tank founded and funded by the Israel lobby.

Last week Secretary of State Kerry mentioned a "Plan B" should the recent cessation of hostilities in Syria fail:

US Secretary of State John Kerry provoked widespread speculation when he referred in testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee last week to “significant discussions” within US President Barack Obama's administration about a “Plan B” in Syria. The speculation was further stoked by a “senior official” who told CBS News that options under consideration included "'military-like' measures that would make it harder for the regime and its allies to continue their assault on civilians and US-backed rebels.”

A violent Salafi militia from Lebanon storming into Syria would certainly be a "'military-like' measures that would make it harder for the regime and its allies".

The author of the last linked text, Gareth Porter, dismissed the chance of a real "Plan B" but had not yet included the Lebanon plot scenario in his considerations. He continued:

Kerry suggested that the US was still a player in the Syrian contest for power. Regarding Chairman Bob Corker’s comment that the Russians had been “accomplishing their ends” in Syria, he argued that the Russians and the Syrian government could take control of Aleppo, but that “holding territory has always been difficult”. Kerry claimed that the Russians could not prevent the opposition from getting the weapons needed to continue the war, as long as the US and its allies were supporting them. He offered no explanation for that claim.

The Turkish-Saudi weapon smuggling into Lebanon is an explanation for the claim Kerry made. Syria and Russia are in the process of closing off the Syrian-Turkish border. If the Saudis can build a weapon pipeline into north Lebanon it will become quite difficult for Syria and its allies to hold the Syrian territory near the Lebanese border.

In a speech yesterday Hizbullah chief Nasrallah discussed the general Saudi threat to Lebanon at length but did not mention the Sunni militia plot:

"Saudi which treats Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Bahrain like that, treats Lebanon the same way," Sayyed Nasrallah concluded, addressing the Saudis: "Your problem is with us, it is not with the country or with the Lebanese..."

Nasrallah is right, but the Saudis will not care when the Lebanese people or their country get hurt due to some nefarious scheme to attack Syria and Hizbullah. Nor will the United States.

There are obvious signs for a plan to use Saudi controlled Sunni militia from Lebanon against the Syrian government and its supporters. The U.S. is, in my view, very likely involved in this plot. But we still do not know if this plan will ever be implemented. The recent Saudi threat to send its army into Syria turned out to be a pure (dis-)information campaign to unsettle the Syrian government's side. The recent revelations about the plot in Lebanon and the "Plan B" may also be pure deception and illusionary to gain some leverage for the coming negotiations.

But the ship the Greek coastguard caught was real and such a plan would have a good chance to create lots of troubles for Syria and its supporters. My advice to the Syrian government and its allies is to prepare now to eventually counter it.

Posted by b on March 2, 2016 at 05:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (81)

March 01, 2016

Syria: A Turkish-Saudi Countermove In Lebanon Threatens Latakia (Updated)

Updated below

Fabrice Balanche is a French professor and a specialist on Syria's political geography. He is currently a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute (formerly WINEP) which is part by the U.S. Zionist lobby. So far the writings of Balanche for WINEP have been rather sane, neutral analyses.

In a piece published on February 5 he looked at the situation after the Syrian campaign cut the northern insurgency supply line to Turkey. At the end Balanche muses about possible countermoves by the Turkish and Saudi supporters of the insurgency:

Yet Turkey and Saudi Arabia may not remain passive in the face of major Russian-Iranian progress in Syria. For example, they could set up a new rebel umbrella group similar to Jaish al-Fatah, and/or send antiaircraft missiles to certain brigades. Another option is to open a new front in northern Lebanon, where local Salafist groups and thousands of desperate Syrian refugees could be engaged in the fight. Such a move would directly threaten Assad's Alawite heartland in Tartus and Homs, as well as the main road to Damascus. Regime forces would be outflanked, and Hezbollah's lines of communication, reinforcement, and supply between Lebanon and Syria could be cut off. The question is, do Riyadh and Ankara have the means and willingness to conduct such a bold, dangerous action?

Some Turkish, Saudi or CIA strategist may have had the same thought, or may have taken up Balanche's idea:

Cargo ship from Turkey full of weapons seized by Greek authorities

According to Greek and Turkish sources, a cargo ship containing thousands of weapons, ammunition, and explosives was seized by Greek authorities on February 28th. The ship– sporting a Togo flag– had reportedly left a Turkish port in Izmir and was traveling to Lebanon as well as the southeastern African coast.

The above source is not always reliable, but Elijah J. Magnier, reporting from Syria for the Kuwaiti paper AL RAI, just confirmed the news:

Elijah J. Magnier @EjmAlrai
#BreakingNews: Fuelling Lebanon?
#Greece arrest crew of a ship 6 #Syria/n, 4 #India/n 1 #Lebanese carrying weapons from #Turkey to #Lebanon.

The ship was carrying 6 containers of which 2 full of weapons designated to a harbour in #Lebanon, intercepted at #Greece Crete #Island.

Very alarming indeed & shows a possible escalation planned n #Lebanon when the #SaudiArabia / #Hezbollah/#Iran relationship is at its worse.

This indicates that #Lebanon is no longer outside the circle of the war in #Syria and is supposed to be dragged in

It is unlikely that this is a purely Turkish operation. The Saudis do have enormous influence in Lebanon due to their frequent bribes paid to the various actors there. The general Saudi influence is now somewhat diminished. None of the major Lebanese followed the Saudi's demand to take its side and to seek conflict with Syria or Hizbullah, the Lebanese Shia party that supports the Syrian government. But there are still groups in Lebanon, especially Salafis, which the Saudis essentially command. 

A few weeks ago a Saudi prince was imprisoned in Lebanon after being caught loading two tons of amphetamine Captagon pills onto his private plane. There are also rumors that the Saudis recently found a video which showed Hizbullah operators training Yemeni Houthis in intelligence matters. This was seen as a direct attack on Saudi interests. The Saudis cut $4 billion of Saudi paid French weapon aid they had promised to the Lebanese military. A week ago they warned all their citizens to leave Lebanon.

The now caught ship is likely the result of Saudi and Turkish cooperation. The idea is reckless as it could throw Lebanon back into the terrible years of the Lebanese civil war. But the idea is also very bold which lets me believe that its origin is neither Saudi nor Turkish.

The weapon ship may not have been the only or the first one. It is quite possible that some weapons have already reached the Sunni quarters of Tripoli in north Lebanon. In 2012 some fierce fighting erupted between the Alawite enclave in Tripoli and some Sunni neighborhoods. Then the Lebanese army intervened to calm the fighting down.

With weapons for some 10,000 men and lots of dollars to pay them, a serious threat to the soft underbelly of Syria could be implemented within a few weeks. An attack from the Tripoli area northward into Latakia would open a new dangerous front against the Syrian government. Hopefully the Syrian government and Hizbullah are prepared to squelch such a campaign in its infancy.

Update:

Stratfor, a private U.S. intelligence service, distributed this claim today:

A Sunni politician in Lebanon tells Stratfor that the Saudi government wants to build a Sunni anti-Hizbullah militia by providing for Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon.

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The sourcing is fishy - "According to a Sunni politician ...  Saudi Arabia is reportedly ...". Why does Startfor need a politician to tell them that something is "reported" somewhere. Why not source to the original report?

Is this all a "Plan B" head fake to gain some leverage for negotiations? Or is this a real program?

Posted by b on March 1, 2016 at 10:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (50)

Reading About Zika May Hurt Your Brain

The Zika virus is harmless but since late December the media, for whatever reason, try to created a panic about it. That campaign continues. The New York Times, a main culprit here, has mentioned Zika in more than 250 stories since late December.

The virus is know to infect humans since 1947. While most people will not even feel an infection, those few who do will have a few days of rashes, inflamed eyes or joint pain. Soon their immune system will create antibodies against the virus and everything will be fine.

But even while Zika is known to be less harmful than an average flue, one headline after the other tries to create the impression that it is some really awful, new bug that may be responsible for about any ailment. That it may spread like wildfire and may have other terrible consequences. May, as in 'the sky may fall', is indeed the most operative word here.

Consider:

One may hope that the above heap of nonsense may teach people to ignore such speculative content. But that hope may be in vane.

Posted by b on March 1, 2016 at 06:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (21)

 
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