Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
November 03, 2014

Open Thread 2014-26

More news & views ...

Posted by b at 12:45 PM | Comments (309)

Syria: "Sunni ... form Assad's chief power base"

(Sorry for light, boring posting while I am busy with some urgent personal issues.)

As predicted the consolidation of insurgent groups in Syria is continuing with the more radicals ever winning:

The Obama administration’s Syria strategy suffered a major setback Sunday after fighters linked to al-Qaeda routed U.S.-backed rebels from their main northern strongholds, capturing significant quantities of weaponry, triggering widespread defections and ending hopes that Washington will readily find Syrian partners in its war against the Islamic State.

The ousted groups were supported by the CIA and had U.S. weapons including tank-killing TOWs. Those are now in the hands of al-Nusra which already prepares to take more ground.

The Obama administration will have difficulties to further deny the obvious. The idea of training some "new FSA" gangs and to supply them with U.S. weapons is nuts. The only force on the ground in Syria that can take on the Islamic State is the Syrian army. Two days ago I smelled some turn in the media towards a more benign presentation of the Syrian government. It earlier was nearly always depicted as sectarian and as solidly run by minority Alawi. That was always wrong but it was the leitmotif of all "western" Syria reports. Here is now another Associated Press piece about Sunni refugees within Syria that challenges that view:

Sunnis, who form the country's majority faith group, form Assad's chief power base, even as the rebellion is dominated by Sunnis. Minorities, like the Alawites, Shiites and Christians, mostly support the government or have remained neutral.

It also shows that the Syrian administration is still able to govern decently:

Government services, while scrappy, still exist. Workers receive salaries, even if the local currency is falling. There is still power, though cuts are routine. Health care is still free, although residents say waits are long as doctors leave their posts.

So what is really not to like with the Syrian president Assad the readers of those AP pieces will ask themselves. Isn't he better than all alternatives?

Posted by b at 12:44 PM | Comments (40)

November 01, 2014

Syria: New Hints Of A Changing U.S. Position

Here are some remarkable media mentions of Syria.

From RAND, the Pentagon think tank, on Alternative Futures for Syria.

Among the Key Findings:

Regime collapse, while not considered a likely outcome, was perceived to be the worst possible outcome for U.S. strategic interests.
...
It is regime victory that now appears to be most likely in the near to mid-term, due to the confluence of military and political factors favoring pro-Assad forces.

An Associated Press reporter visits the Latakia area and talks to the people who are all staunch supporter of the Syrian government: Syria's Alawites pay heavy price as they bury sons.

The piece includes this fact that has been true since the fighting in Syria started:

Syria's army represents the sectarian makeup of the country: it is largely Sunni Muslim, fighting mostly Sunni Muslim rebels.

This was so far hardly ever mentioned in "western" media" which was thereby propagandizing sectarianism and further war.

Another remark that does not fit the usual picture. Some people protest against President Assad not because he is fighting against the insurgents but because he is not waging enough war:

"If anything, their critique of Bashar is that he is too weak, so they would rather have a hard-line guy in power," said the aid worker, who requested anonymity because he wasn't meant to speak to reporters.

Also remarkable. Who does the U.S. trust to have the best intelligence to fight the Islamic State? Syria of course. But as official collaboration is not (yet) allowed, the arrangement is covered up as espionage: U.S. Spying on Syria Yields Bonus: Intelligence on Islamic State:

U.S. Spies Have Been Tapping the Communications of President Bashar al-Assad’s Regime for Information on Islamic State Militants

I am sure that the U.S. could not listen to Syria government communication about IS, and would not make the fact that it can public, if the Syrian (and Russian) government would not want them to.

The U.S. plan was to let some of its "enemies", the Syrians, Iranians, Russians, fight it out with some of its other "enemies", the radical Islamists and by proxy the Saudis and Qataris. All would be weakened and the relative U.S. role in the Middle East would be strengthened. But with the Islamic State blowback in Iraq, in Lebanon and in future likely in further places, the plan to let the enemies destroy each other is increasingly risky.

What we are seeing now, and the Associated Press report above is in my view not just a coincidence, is a slow change in the U.S. position. It is starting to lean towards a more appreciating view towards the Syrian government. How far that change will go is not yet knowable.

My take on the letter Secretary of Defense Hagel sent to the White House is that his demand for a clearer strategy on Syria is not, as Reuters assumes, a request for more help to the insurgents but a request to let go of the animosity towards the Syrian government and to further cooperate with it in the fight against the Islamic State. That is the essence of the RAND study quoted above which Hagel's house paid for. If my reading of it is correct the White House would be wise to follow Hagel's view.

Posted by b at 03:42 PM | Comments (43)

October 31, 2014

Syria: Pro-Nusra "Rebels" Turn Anti-Nusra "Rebels" Turn Dead

How a month can change the perspective ...

McClatchy, September 27 2014: Rebel-held towns in Syria protest US bombing of al-Qaida affiliate

The protests in rebel-held territories illustrated the confusion among Syrians over the aims of the U.S.-led coalition and the support that al-Qaida’s Nusra Front enjoys among rebel factions.

In Afamia, a town in western Hama province, demonstrators carried Nusra’s black flags, chanted anti-Assad slogans, called for the downfall of the Syrian Opposition Coalition — the U.S.-backed civilian organization that the United States recognizes as the only legitimate representative of the Syrian people — and condemned what they called “the coalition strikes against the mujahedeen,” or holy warriors.

McClatchy, October 29, 2014: Syria rebels plead for U.S. help as Nusra, a former friend, goes on the attack

Al Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, which has long been viewed by that country’s rebels as an ally in the battle to topple President Bashar Assad, has turned on them in recent days, forcing the beleaguered rebels into a three-front war that they say they are sure to lose unless the United States changes policy and sends them more weapons.
...
Commanders warned Wednesday that assaults this week by Nusra could cause the collapse of rebel front lines, which already were under stress from fighting the Islamic State and the Assad government.

The CIA and special forces in contact with those "moderate rebels" can now say "told you so" when they ask for more help. After the pro-Nusra demonstrations last month more material help is unlikely to come:

A third CIA-vetted commander said that the U.S.-led coalition had cut the flow of arms and ammunition to a trickle and painted a dire image of the outcome should this not change.

There are some nine different wars going on now between the various insurgent groups and between them and the government of Syria and its supporters. That chaos helps the Syrian army to gain ground.

But the chaos will shrink. The "Fee Syrian Army" is pretty much dead. The Nusra front is shrinking with many of its fighters and officials deserting and joining the Islamic State. In a few month the Islamic State will be the only group fighting against the Syrian (and Iraqi) government and Hizbullah and other pro-government militias. That battle will be epic.

The shiny, all new, to be U.S. trained "Fee Syrian Army" planned for now is unlikely to ever get off the ground.

"We're not going to be able to build that kind of credible force in enough time to make a difference," said a senior U.S. officer who is involved in military operations against the militants and who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. "We've watched the moderate opposition dwindle and dwindle and now there's very little left."

To find fighters and support from Turkey and Saudi Arabia Obama would have to promise to use the "new" FSA against the Syrian government. But destroying the Syrian government is likely a guarantee that the Islamic State will seize Damascus and the rest of Syria. The Obama administration seems to rightfully fear that and will, despite heavy pressure from some hawks and Pentagon brass, hopefully not go that way.

Posted by b at 11:01 AM | Comments (16)

October 30, 2014

Open Thread 2014-25

(Busy with end-of-month deadline ...)

News & views ...

Posted by b at 03:28 PM | Comments (96)

October 28, 2014

U.S. State Department Tweets Incite People To Join Terrorist Groups

The U.S. State Department is running some odd (dis-)information campaign under the name "Think Again Turn Away". It is using so called "social media" to, supposedly, deter people from joining extreme international groups. It has a Facebook page with 8,450 likes and a Twitter account with some 12,700 followers.

But the whole program seem to be run by some bumbling intern. How please is this tweet supposed to deter young, easily impressed people from joining the Islamic State or any other extremist group fighting against the Syrian government?

That tweet is a direct invitation to join any of the hundreds of extremist insurgency groups that are fighting against the governments in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

That the above tweet is inciting people to join to commit terrorism against the Syrian state is not the only issue. Its content is a lie. The British doctor in question came to Syria illegally and provided medical services to insurgents. He was caught and put into jail. There he hanged himself:

A British surgeon, imprisoned in Syria for over a year, has died in detention, his family has told the BBC.

Dr Abbas Khan, a 32-year-old orthopaedic surgeon from Streatham, south London, travelled to the city of Aleppo last year to help civilians.
...
A Syrian government official said Dr Khan had committed suicide in his cell.
...
Last week the family expressed concern that Dr Khan was depressed and may want to harm himself.

If a depressed man with known suicidal tendencies hangs himself in prison and there is zero evidence of any other involvement in his death how can the State Department claim that he "was killed by regime forces"?

The link in the above State Department tweet goes to an AlJazeerah story. AlJazeerah is a TV station financed by the government of Qatar which has also given billions in cash and weapons to insurgents in Syria including, at least indirectly, to Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State. Is promoting Qatari government media and thereby its policies of promoting terrorism now also one of the State Department's tasks?

The State Department tweet is linking media of the terrorist supporting Qatari government with a false claim about a doctor`s death to incite against the Syrian government. It thereby justifies terrorism attacks against the Syrian state and its people. Such justifications incite young people, especially in the "west", to join Jihadist groups that are fighting against government forces in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Is that an expression of the State Department's official policy?

Foggy Bottom should "Think Again" about this media campaign and "Turn Away" from such primitive policies.

Posted by b at 01:28 PM | Comments (38)

October 27, 2014

Syria: "No (U.S. supported) Field Force To Liberate Damascus"

Obama's pointman for the efforts against the Islamic State, Gen. John Allen, gave an interview to the Saudi Asharq Al-Awasat paper. There are lots of interesting bits in it but this part on the role of the "Free Syrian Army" and the "new" forces the U.S. wants to train sticks out:

Q: But you don’t see the FSA units that are being trained to fight ISIS as being those who will later fight the regime’s armed forces?

No. What we would like to see is for the FSA and the forces that we will ultimately generate, train and equip to become the credible force that the Assad government ultimately has to acknowledge and recognize. There is not going to be a military solution here [in Syria]. We have to create so much credibility within the moderate Syrian opposition at a political level . . . that they earn their spot at the table when the time comes for the political solution. Now, there could be FSA elements that ultimately clash with the regime, that may well be the case, as they seek to defend themselves and those areas that they dominate and as they seek to defend their families and their ways of life . . . it could be an outcome. But the intent is not to create a field force to liberate Damascus—that is not the intent. The intent is that in the political outcome, they [the moderate Syrian opposition] must be a prominent—perhaps the preeminent voice—at the table to ultimately contribute to the political outcome that we seek.

It seems to me that the Obama administration has given up on the FSA and the Syrian exile opposition. Reports from inside the insurgency claim that the U.S. support has slowed to a trickle and to many groups simply ended. The Syrian army is gaining the upper hand in more and more battles. The creation of the "new" anti-Syrian force, should it ever come into being, is just a fig leaf for giving up on overthrowing the Syrian government.

The strategy against the Islamic State that Allen describes is some decade long program of social engineering in Iraq by creating some Iraqi National Guard like the U.S National Guard. That is, in my view, likely to fail.

Obama has kicked the can down the road for the next president to kick again, to give up on the issue or to try some yet untried hail mary pass.

---

Another more short term issue is Kobane, the Syrian town held by Kurdish PKK/YPG forces. The Islamic State just released a video in which its prisoner John Cantlie, who may have joined the IS by now, is "reporting" from Kobane: : "The Islamic State won the battle in Kobane, it's nearly over here". The video is impressive with aerial footage of Kobane, a direct view on Turkish tanks and western style stand-up reportage of IS talking points by John Cantlie. But from the media reports Cantlie remarks on one can guess that the video was shot about a week ago and Kobane has still not fallen completely. The IS success claim in the video seems therefor somewhat exaggerated.

The Turkish government is still refusing to let any reinforcement or supplies come to help of the PKK forces in Kobane. The announced reinforcement by peshmerga fighters form kurdish Iraq, considered to be friendly to the Turkish government, has been held up for "technical reasons." The U.S. has bet some prestige on the Kobane issue. The White House will be furious should the city fall because of Erdogan's foot-dragging.

Posted by b at 03:13 PM | Comments (46)

October 25, 2014

Ukraine: Winter And Reigniting The War

(While I am busy ..)

The Saker says something is up in Ukraine. He expects a Ukrainian offense after tomorrows election (in which the anti-coup opposition is given no real chance to compete).

As I wrote earlier I believe that Jack Frost makes a new military campaign unlikely. I am not sure which side would want to again heat up the low flame "truce" war that has waged over the last weeks. Though both sides seem to have some itch for it.

But it has started freezing in Ukraine and a winter-war would be mostly road-bound, difficult to proceed for both sides with some additional advantages for those defending build up areas. Tanks and trucks would get stuck in muddy fields. It is not the environment in which one can expect wide space taking movements that would change the overall situation.

I am therefore scratching my head and wondering what military genius, obviously without any knowledge of World War II battles in Ukraine, would plan for such a campaign. It would be a quite lunatic endeavor.

Posted by b at 03:08 PM | Comments (186)

October 23, 2014

Israeli Defense Minister Predicts The End Of Artificial ME States

Moshe Ya'alon predicts the end of his country:

Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon is known for his blunt manner, and in an interview with NPR, he says that a future map of the Middle East will look very different that the one that exists today.
...
"We have to distinguish between countries like Egypt, with their history. Egypt will stay Egypt," Ya'alon, who is on a visit to Washington, tells Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep.

In contrast, Ya'alon says, "Libya was a new creation, a Western creation as a result of World War I. Syria, Iraq, the same — artificial nation-states — and what we see now is a collapse of this Western idea."

Which country in the Middle East is the most artificial? Which one was created as the result of a World War and is solely a "western" idea?

It seems to me that Ya'alon lacks the self awareness to detect the irony in what he said.

Posted by b at 09:28 AM | Comments (102)

October 21, 2014

Radek Sikorski Throws Eggs At Ben Judah And Blake Hounshell - Hits Faces

Yesterday Politico promoted a story about "Putin's Coup written by junior neocon Ben Judah. The lede:

The war in Ukraine is no longer only about Ukraine. The conflict has transformed Russia. This increasingly is what European leaders and diplomats believe: that Vladimir Putin and his security establishment have used the fog of war in Ukraine to shroud the final establishment of his brittle imperialist dictatorship in Moscow.

Among those who believe that this is happening, and that Europe will be facing down a more menacing Russia for a long time to come, is Radek Sikorski, who was Poland’s foreign minister from 2007 until September.

Anything that starts off by calling the elected government of the Russian Federation an "imperialist dictatorship" is obviously rubbish.

But the hard right-wing Radek Sikorski, who ones had a U.S. British passport and is married to the neocon Washington Post columnist Anne Appelbaum, always makes some funny jokes, like identifying Obama's grandfather as a cannibal, so I read on.

And I was right, there were some really funny lines in there:

Cont. reading: Radek Sikorski Throws Eggs At Ben Judah And Blake Hounshell - Hits Faces

Posted by b at 03:02 PM | Comments (71)

Open Thread 2014-24

Your news & views ...

(me busy)

Posted by b at 02:03 PM | Comments (88)

October 20, 2014

Pressured Turkey Accomodates Some Support For Kobane

The U.S. is getting trapped in its support for the Kurds in Kobane while Turkey's Erdogan, for unknown reasons, seems to making a u-turn in his anti-Kurdish position.

Just yesterday the Turkish president Erdogan said that no weapons should be given to the YPK/PPK fighters defending Kobane, near to Turkish Syrian border, against the onslaught by Islamic State fighters:

Turkey wouldn't agree to any U.S. arms transfers to Kurdish fighters who are battling Islamic militants in Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying Sunday, as the extremist group fired more mortar rounds near the Syrian-Turkish border.
...
"The PYD is for us, equal to the PKK. It is a terror organization," Erdogan told a group of reporters on his return from a visit to Afghanistan.

Obama, just after another phonecall with Erdogan on Sunday, showed him the finger and a few hours later U.S. air force planes dropped weapons for the PKK fighters in Kobane.

This was against a new U.S. law which allows U.S. weapon transfers only to "appropriately vetted" anti-IS fighters. Turkey, the U.S. and the EU see the PKK, and the associated YPK in Syria, as terrorists. So who has now vetted these folks?

Obama's excuse is the claim that these weapons were donated by the Kurdish government in Iraq's Kurdish areas (KRG). They are, technically, not U.S. weapons but as the Washington Post remarked:

Much of the material, however, had been at least indirectly provided to the Iraqi Kurds by the United States and coalition allies.

Erdogan had earlier set three conditions for the supporting the Kurds in Syria. They should fight against the Syrian government under the command of the Turkish supported (fictitious) Free Syrian Army, stop striving for any autonomous areas and suspend any action against the Turkish government. His demands towards the U.S. were support for the overthrow of the Syrian government, creation of a no-fly zone over Syria and the creation of a secured border zone on Syrian ground. The U.S. had rejected those demands.

But the Kurds in northern Syria now seem to have, at least verbally, moved towards some accommodation of Erdogan's demands. In a statement released by them they say:

The resistance shown by our units YPG and the factions of the free Syrian army is a guarantee for defeating ISIS terrorism in the region. Counter-terrorism and building a free and democratic Syria was the basis for the agreements signed with factions of the free Syrian Army. As we can see that the success of the revolution are subject to the development of this relationship between all factions and the forces of good in this country.
...
We will work to consolidate the concept of true partnership for the management of this country commensurate with the aspirations of the Syrian people with all its components, sects and social classes.

One might guess that each side will read whatever it will into this statement.

Turkey still rejects any support for the YPK/PKK but has now agreed to allow Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters from its allies in north Iraqi under president Barzani to pass through Turkey into Kobane.

"It will be very wrong for America with whom we are allied and who we are together with in NATO to expect us to say 'yes' (to supporting the PYD) after openly announcing such support for a terrorist organization," Erdogan said.
...
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a news conference that Turkey was facilitating the passage of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces which have also fought Islamic State when the militants attacked the Kurds' autonomous region in Iraq over the summer. He gave no details.

Syrian Kurds who had fled from Kobane to Turkey and who support the fighters will not be allowed to return to Syria but Iraqi Kurds will now be allowed to do just that. The deal was arranged by KRG intelligence chief Lahur Talabani. Turkey may hope that the Peshmerga, who are internal Kurdish enemies of the Marxist PKK, may take the lead in the fight against the Islamic State and diminish the PKK influence on this issue. It is not clear if the YPK/PKK fighters will welcome such Peshmerga support.

It is difficult to find out what really happened in this Turkish u-turn. There was either a deal behind this whole and astonishing Turkish turnaround or Obama's weapon drop over Kobane has finally forced Erdogan into a more accommodating position. Or maybe the attempted kidnapping of a Turkish supported insurgent commander by the Islamic State played a role.

Meanwhile U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, who only last week said that Kobane had no strategic relevance, is lauding the "valiantly fighting" PKK in Kobane:

"It would be irresponsible of us, as well morally very difficult, to turn your back on a community fighting ISIL as hard as it is at this particular moment," he said.

For weeks the U.S. did not help in Kobane. Only after much publicity documented the fighting did the U.S. intervene. Only after pressure from domestic opposition did the U.S. intensify its bombing against the Islamic State in Kobane. Now Obama is in a trap. He can not let the city fall without loss of face and without receiving vicious attacks from the republicans in Congress. This while the attack on Kobane is most likely only a diversion created by the Islamic State to draw away those U.S. resources which could hinder its consolidation in the Iraqi Anbar province.

Posted by b at 10:21 AM | Comments (45)

October 18, 2014

State Department Contractor Breaks Russian Visa Law, Whines When Caught

The U.S. State Department is continuing its influence program against the Russian state. It finances "workshops" in Russia to eventually prepare for a "color revolution" there. It hires academic trainers from U.S. universities to work on various parts of the plans. One of those parts is the recruitment and influencing of Russian journalists. When the State Department sends those trainers to Russia it tells them to falsely claim to be "tourists". The Russian found out about practice and told those "trainers" to stop such nonsense.

The U.S. media though used the issue to predicatively"blame Russia". That explains factually false headlines like Boston Journalist Briefly Detained in Russia or even worse Two U.S. tourists detained in Russia:

Two American journalists were briefly detained in Russia and taken to court Thursday for teaching an investigative journalism workshop. Both were found guilty of violating visa regulations, authorities said. The New England Center for Investigative Reporting said that its co-founder, Joe Bergantino, and University of South Carolina professor Randy Covington, were detained for several hours by immigration authorities as they began teaching their first workshop in St. Petersburg.

Since when are "tourists" teaching workshops? Even worse - the same article headline with "U.S. tourists detained" later remarks:

Bergantino and Covington, who had tourist visas, were told they couldn’t continue teaching, but were free to leave the country as scheduled Saturday, the New England Center for Investigative Journalism said.

It said the visas the two journalists held were the type recommended by the U.S. State Department for that visit.

The State Department admits that much:

Asked if the U.S. was concerned about what had happened to them, [State Department spokeswoman Jen] Psaki said: “They were there to do a training that we sponsored, so I think our preference would have been for them not to be detained, I think it’s fair to say.

The "tourists" or "journalists" broke Russian immigration laws and had been advised by the U.S. State Department to do just that. What did they expect the Russian immigration service to do? To also ignore Russian law because the U.S. State Department says so?

One of the State Department contractors, Joe Bergantino, who came as "tourist" to Russia to run a U.S. State Department financed influence workshop is pissed that Russia follows the rules of law. He writes an angry open letter to the Russian president:

Let me repeat the question, Mr. Putin: Was all that really necessary? It’s clear that you enjoy playing the tough guy on the world stage and that the Russian people overwhelmingly support your message to the rest of us: Russia is strong and will exercise her will as she sees fit.

But let me get personal for a moment.
...

What Mr. Bergantino should have asked, and rather himself than Mr. Putin: "Was it really necessary to come to Russia under false pretense? And was it really necessary to, knowingly, break Russian law?"

And would a real journalist, not a propagandist, really lament foreign "tough guy" nonsense without looking into the homeland mirror? How would the U.S. Homeland Security behave if something similar happened in the United States?

We can answer that question. Since 2003 all journalists from all countries who come to the U.S. must get a special and expensive visa as journalists. Even those from countries, like France or Germany, which have general visa-waver agreements with the United States. What happens when such journalists, not even on a foreign state influence contract but just for real reporting, enter the United States to do their job without a special visa?

On the weekend of May 10 and 11, six French television journalists visiting Los Angeles to cover the massive E3 video-game expo were stopped for questioning by LAX border guards, barred from entering the country, and sent back to Europe. "These journalists were treated like criminals—subjected to several body searches, handcuffed, locked up and fingerprinted," Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Robert Ménard complained in a letter ..

Now compare that to Mr. Bergantino who was not treated like a criminal, received only an administrative warning and was allowed to stay until his regular departure flight.

Which country here, Mr. Bergantino, really owns the moral high ground?

Posted by b at 02:10 PM | Comments (110)

October 17, 2014

How To Create A No-Fly Zone Over Syria

So how does one get political momentum for the creation of a no-fly zone over Syria?

Easy.

Just claim that the current boogeyman is using planes and one is free to shoot ALL planes, especially Syrian government ones, out of the sky.

Islamic State training pilots to fly in three jets -Syria monitor

Iraqi pilots who have joined Islamic State in Syria are training members of the group to fly in three captured fighter jets, a group monitoring the war said on Friday, saying it was the first time that the militant group had taken to the air.

The group, which has seized land in Syria and Iraq, has been flying the planes over the captured al-Jarrah military airport east of Aleppo, said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Reuters was not immediately able to verify the report.

BTW - Who's secret service is funding this Rami Abdulrahman guy?

Afterthought: Isn't the threat of an Islamic State air force a good reason for Russia to finally deliver the ordered S-300 air defense system to Syria?

Posted by b at 07:50 AM | Comments (55)

October 16, 2014

Syria: Arming Insurgents Probably Achieved Its Real Aim

CIA studies, commissioned in 2012 and 2013, found that arming "rebels" in civil wars usually fails. When such operations do somewhat work, like in Afghanistan against the Soviets, the later blowback is hard to avoid. The Obama administration leaked this story now to reject criticism against its current policies in Syria where it has given up on the Free Syrian Army and wants to create another one.

Political scientists have know for quite a while that arming "rebels" is nearly always a bad policy:

In general, external support for rebels almost always make wars longer, bloodier and harder to resolve (..). Worse, as the University of Maryland’s David Cunningham has shown, Syria had most of the characteristics of the type of civil war in which external support for rebels is least effective.

But if the administration knew that arming rebels was bad policy why did the U.S. start in June 2012 to arm them and why does it continue do so? Why does it still allow Israel and Qatar to do so?

Dan Froomkin suggests that it is all about electoral politics. Not arming the "rebels" ..

.. probably would have been cast by the elite media — not to mention Fox News — as surrender, costing the Democrats another few House and Senate races.

It could also have been a policy driven by the neocon/liberal-interventionist urge to just "do something" - i.e. to achieve some self-satisfaction.

Or the plan was never to win. If the aim was and is the "destruction of the infrastructure, economy and social fabric of Syria" then arming all kinds of insurgents was and is a sane and successful policy.

Posted by b at 11:47 AM | Comments (27)

Iran Moves Iraq And Syria Portfolio to Higher Management

Foreign Policy wonders about the new publicity the commander of the Iranian Quds force, Qassem Suleiman, is striving for:

Qassem Suleimani, a silver-haired Iranian spymaster Washington has long disparaged as a terrorist, has spent decades staying out of public view as he quietly worked to funnel arms and money to Iranian proxies and allies across the Middle East. Now, he's stepping into the limelight as the face of Tehran's intensifying battle with the Islamic State.

In recent weeks, photos of Suleimani on a mountaintop alongside Yazidi elders who had faced extermination at the hands of the Islamic State and shaking hands with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters on battlefields in Kurdistan have been widely shared on Twitter, Facebook, and Iranian state-run media. That means the once-elusive leader of the Quds Force, a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard responsible for high-profile missions outside of Iran, is enjoying a strange form of celebrity

FP is asking "why" Suleiman is now going public but finds no answer to the question aside from pure speculations.

Suleiman was solely responsible for Iran's external relations with various "militant" groups in the Middle East including Hizbullah in Lebanon, Islamic Jihad in Palestine and various Iran friendly militia in Syria and Iraq. While he was successful in earlier years the recent rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as well the U.S. intervention in those countries is rather dangerous for Iran's direct security and its influence in those states.

Suleiman's portfolio has now been moved upwards. He is no longer the sole responsible man for Iran's relations to those groups but is now subordinated to a new committee (machine translated) which was formed under Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani. Shamkani is the Supreme Leader's military adviser and is secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council.

Suleiman's sudden publicity is likely a kind of self-defense against his critics in the Islamic Republic: "Look here, I am doing a lot!" The rise of the Islamic State is not the only danger to Iran. The re-introduction of U.S. troops in Iraq, under the pretense of fighting the Islamic State which U.S. allies helped to create, is the bigger problem. Suleiman, his critics say, did not foresee this and/or failed to prevent it.

The new role of Admiral Shamkhani is visible in his recent travels. He met Lebanon's Prime Minister and offered Iranian help against Sunni Jihadists in Lebanon. He also met Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah. He has visited Syria and held talks with the Syrian president Assad. Yesterday he received the head of the Islamic Jihad Movement of Palestine and promised further help and weapons for Gaza. Shamkhani's portefolio is wider than just the contact to "militant" groups. He recently had talks with the former French foreign minister De Villepin likely about further developments in Syria.

So unlike in earlier years, when Suleiman was directly negotiating with the U.S. over Afghanistan and Iraq, Suleiman is no longer the sole person to decide over such policies. Endangered in his position he now needs to up his image in Iran and that is very likely the reason why one now seems more pictures of him in the field with various of his client groups.

[Side remark: The FP piece repeats the U.S. propaganda about Iranian origin of "explosively formed penetrators" used against U.S. troops in Iraq:

Shiite militias used advanced weapons called explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) to destroy American armored vehicles and kill those inside. Those weapons were almost certainly made in Iran and then given, using networks Suleimani helped establish, to Shiite fighters.

Many U.S. media have reported that these penetrators were found to be produced in various workshops in Iraq and there has never been any fact based report that traced their origin to Iran.]

Posted by b at 04:00 AM | Comments (25)

October 14, 2014

Syria: UK Still Wants "Regime Change"

The British government does not get it. There is no reasonable alternative to the current government of Syria. The Syrian National Council is a joke:

Over the weekend, the Syrian National Coalition failed to failed to agree on a prime minister during a summit in Turkey. A member of the SNC said the biggest dispute at the Istanbul meeting centred around a split between the favoured candidates of vital funders Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Everyone seems to acknowledge that those idiots should not be allowed to run Syria. Why then still go for regime change?

Britain's top diplomat says the US-led military campaign in Syria against Islamic State militants must be followed by regime change in Damascus, the seat of power for President Bashar al-Assad.

In an interview, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Britain would help the US to stand up a proxy army in Syria that would be capable of fighting both Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and President Assad's forces.

The CIA has been building up a proxy army in Syria for three years. It has supplied it with all kinds of weapons including hundreds of anti-tank missiles. Other "allies" have supplied Chinese anti-air missiles. The CIA proxy army, the Free Syrian Army, is in disarray. It has allied itself with extreme Jihadist forces and the weapons it received have been taken by the Jihadists and have recently been used to shoot down Iraqi army helicopters.

What Hammond now at least admits is that the forces he wants to train are mercenaries. People who fight for money and not for some higher interests:

Hammond argues that regular funding is key to building a cohesive rebel force in Syria. "They will be employees. We’re not talking about training a bunch of freelancers who go off on their pick-up trucks and we never see them again," he says, noting that the FSA already has organized units that draw a regular salary.

He estimates that IS fighters are paid between $300 and $600 a month, which provides a yardstick for funding a proxy army. "The wage bill for a force built up eventually to 50,000 is not going to break the bank,” he says.

I am confident that it will be nearly impossible to find enough Syrians willing to continue to fight to fill another 50,000 men army. The war has been going on for some years and people get tired of it. And what is the difference here between employees and freelancers? Would "employee" mercenaries be more loyal to Hammond than "freelance" mercenaries? Does he think he can pay those Islamic State fighters a bit more than their Caliph pays them and they will forget about the ideology and do his bidding?

Is Hammond really that naive?

Posted by b at 01:00 PM | Comments (114)

A Somewhat Flawed Microsoft "Zero Day" Warning

ZDNet August 16, 2013: Microsoft warns Windows XP users risk 'zero day forever'

Microsoft has been beating increasingly louder the XP end-of-support drum. Earlier this summer, Microsoft gave its reseller partners marching orders to step up their warnings about the end of support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014. This week, Microsoft echoed that warning, adding a new twist, via an August 15 post on the Microsoft Security Blog.
...
Because a security update will never become available for XP after April 8, "Windows XP will essentially have a 'zero day' vulnerability forever," [Tim Rains, Microsoft's Director of Trustworthy Computing] said.

WaPo October 14, 2014: Russian hackers use ‘zero-day’ to hack NATO, Ukraine in cyber-spy campaign

A Russian hacking group probably working for the government has been exploiting a previously unknown flaw in Microsoft’s Windows operating system to spy on NATO, the Ukrainian government, a U.S. university researcher and other national security targets, according to a new report.
...
The firm began monitoring the hackers’ activity in late 2013 and discovered the vulnerability — known as a “zero-day” — in August, [iSight Senior Director Stephen Ward] said. The flaw is pres­ent in every Windows operating system from Vista to 8.1, he said, except Windows XP.

This post was written and edited on a laptop running Windows XP SP3 :-)

Posted by b at 03:26 AM | Comments (27)

October 13, 2014

Saudis Dump Oil To Increase Leverage Over U.S. Middle East Policies

During the last years U.S. president Obama talked a lot about energy independence:

In his fifth State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Barack Obama celebrated the efforts his administration has made to cut greenhouse gas emissions, while also praising recent increases in domestic oil and gas production.

Obama said early in his address that there is now more "oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world," for the first time in two decades.

Obama did not say that the increase in U.S. fossil fuel production was only possible because international oil and gas prices had increased above the magic $100 per barrel equivalent. Below that price shale gas and oil extraction as well as oil production from tar sands are only marginally profitable or not profitable at all.

But the "energy independence" talk allowed various experts to claim that the U.S. could now ignore the Middle East:

Clearly, the booming American oil and gas businesses are not problem-free, but the benefits -- economic, geopolitical and environmental -- of this impending energy independence far outweigh the drawbacks.

The days when Mideast oil-producing dictatorships and their friends at OPEC could so easily wave their power over a trembling, oil-thirsty West are on their way to becoming a relic of the past.

As a new world-wide recession is creeping in, consumption of fossil fuels has declined. Typically such a decline would be followed by a decline in production by major producers to keep the prices and their income somewhat stable. But that is not happening.

The Saudis and other Gulf state rulers disliked U.S. energy independence talk very much. They need to keep some leverage over U.S. policy. They now decided to end the U.S. "energy independence" talk and to push the U.S. to again do their bidding. The simple method they apply is to keep oil production high enough during a period of declining consumption to take prices lower and to thereby make new U.S. domestic production a money losing business:

[T]he [Saudi] kingdom, OPEC's largest producer, is ready to accept oil prices below $90 per barrel, and perhaps down to $80, for as long as a year or two, according to people who have been briefed on the recent conversations.

The discussions, some of which took place in New York over the past week, offer the clearest sign yet that the kingdom is setting aside its longstanding de facto strategy of holding prices at around $100 a barrel for Brent crude in favor of retaining market share in years to come.

The aim is clear. Kick producers with higher production costs than OPEC out of the market and thereby retain the global market share as well as the leverage needed to pursue the Gulf countries' political aims:

Kuwait's oil minister Ali al-Omair was quoted as saying by state news agency KUNA on Sunday that OPEC is unlikely to cut oil production in an effort to prop up prices because such a move would not necessarily be effective.

Omair said $76-$77 a barrel might be the level that would end the oil price slide, since that was the cost of oil production in the United States and Russia.

The Saudis and the other Gulf producers all have positive current account balances (pdf, Fig 3). They can easily afford lower oil prices.

U.S. shale and tar sand production costs are higher than Saudi or Russian production cost. They are the first to die when prices are kept low:

Allowing Brent to fall below $85 could slow the U.S. shale boom because some producers would lose money pumping at that price, Francisco Blanch, head of commodities research at Bank of America, said in a report Sept. 9.
...
Curtailing the shale boom would ensure continued U.S. reliance on Middle Eastern energy, Bank of America’s Blanch said.
...
“For Saudi Arabia, I can’t see why they’d come in and manage prices unless it falls below $90,” Torbjoern Kjus, an analyst at DNB in Oslo, said by phone Sept. 10. “It benefits the Saudis to test where the limit is for U.S. shale.

OPEC’s de facto leader has the “fiscal firepower” to tolerate prices as low as $70 for two years without experiencing economic difficulties, according to Energy Aspects Ltd., a consultant in London. The kingdom held reserve assets valued at $741.6 billion in July, almost double the level five years earlier, according to the Saudi Arabia Monetary Agency.

This strategy will not only allow the Gulf dictators to retain their market share but the Saudis and others will use this strategy to slow down, if not stop, U.S. overtures to Iran as well as to press for U.S. enabled regime change in Syria.

Posted by b at 09:00 AM | Comments (77)

October 12, 2014

The Ebola Scare

The Ebola virus caused disease is not very contagious but relatively deadly. 40-70% of the Ebola infected people are likely to die from it. (That is not as deadly as life, mind you, as life has a total fatality rate of 100%.)

The early basic symptoms of an Ebola infection are similar to a flue. They also often occur without any infection at all. In the "western" world that is typically after the patient watched too much Ebola scare news on her favorite cable canal.

The means of infection are well known, in general body fluids of all kinds from an infected person will carry the virus. That knowledge alone will help enough to decrease the number of newly infected people as more are warned and protect themselves when caring for an infected person. The epidemic will thereby die out within a few weeks.

There is a positive aspect of the current scare. It will increase funding for research into a vaccine and it will at least lead to better treating methods.

Posted by b at 02:18 PM | Comments (80)

October 10, 2014

War On Syria Spills Into Neighbor Countries - Lebanon Now In Serious Danger

Eighteen month ago the Syrian president Assad warned that the war against Syria would also inflame neighboring countries:

“We are surrounded by countries that help terrorists and allow them to enter Syria,” he told Turkish TV station Ulusal Kanal. “Everybody knows that if the disturbances in Syria reach the point of the country’s breakup, or terrorist forces control Syria . . . then this will immediately spill over into neighboring countries and there will be a domino effect that will reach countries across the Middle East.”

Since then the Islamic State (aka ISIS) has taken not only east Syria but also Anbar province in Iraq where it is preparing for an attack on Baghdad International Airport and the Iraqi government in the Baghdad "Green Zone".

In cooperation with Turkey the Islamic State has laid siege on the independent Kurdish enclave Kobane in north east Syria. The city is likely to fall soon just as the Turkish government wants it to. Turkey's blockade of reinforcement and supplies for the defenders inflames the 15 million strong Kurdish population in Turkey. The fall of Kobane may well lead to an end of the peace process between Turks and Kurds and to a renewed civil war in south east Turkey. Turkey houses many refugees from Syria and is a major logistic hub for the Islamic State. Its security personal is already under influence of the Islamic State:

There are signs of an anti-Kurdish and pro-Islamist backlash with Turkish police shouting Isis slogans as they charge Kurdish demonstrators.

Cont. reading: War On Syria Spills Into Neighbor Countries - Lebanon Now In Serious Danger

Posted by b at 09:25 AM | Comments (106)

October 09, 2014

Open Thread 2014-23

News & views ...

Posted by b at 01:39 PM | Comments (122)

October 08, 2014

Was Obama "Yanked" Into The New Middle East War?

There are big B1-B bombers flying over Kobane and there are U.S. friendlies' eyes on the ground telling them where to drop their bombs. There were many strikes today but the Islamic State fighters, with the help of massive car bombs, are still progressing against the Kurdish defenders.

Last night there were big demonstrations in Turkey by Kurds who demand that the border to Syria be opened to resupply the defenders in Kobane. The Erdogan regime gunned down at least 19 of the peaceful protesters. When will Obama say that Erdogan has "lost his legitimacy"?

The Erdogan regime has put a curfew on all major towns and cities in south east Turkey and deployed the military in the streets. But there are 14 million Turks of Kurdish heritage and if they rise up even the military's might will have trouble to hold them back.

Pat Lang is running a war-game about the Islamic State versus the Coalition war and the first task for the participants was to describe the current situation. One of them, Bandolero, wrote an interesting long term conspired overview over the Middle-East intrigues starting in 2001. I do not necessarily agree with it but find it thought provoking. Bandolero suggests that Obama did not want to engage in the Middle East but was dragged into it. Here is an excerpt as an appetizer:

Despite that Al Qaeda in Syria and Iraq are labeled terror organisations, US partners for regime change in Syria, like the Sauds and Turkey, continued to heavily support these organisations (ISIS, Nusra Front et al) deep into 2014, because they deemed them the most effective fighters against the Syrian army, and they want regime change in Syria at any price. Israel and it's friends made clear that they agree with that policy, as they too think, better have Al Qaeda ruling in Syria than Assad. But one such Al Qaeda group, ISIS, - which is likely heavily infiltrated by Syrian, Iranian and Russian intelligence - slipped out of control of it's Saudi masters. ISIS's attack on Mosul (a megacity where Al Qaeda is very strong and deeply entrenched since many years) was planned by it's masters as a blow against the Iranian-backed government in Baghdad and coordinated with Israel's and Turkish clients in the KRG, but Tehran and Baghdad doubled down, and let it happen largely unchallenged while playing surprised. Their bet is, ISIS takeover of Mosul and some more towns in Iraq and Syria will turn against those countries interests, who fuel the sectarian insurgencies in Syria and Iraq.

Chinahand, aka Peter Lee, like Bandolero sees an unwilling Obama dragged into a war he did not want:

Given the too little too late bombing at Kobane, wonder if one of the rules is "targeting by coalition consensus only". So Turkey saying

"IS stands for 'infrastructure', doesn't it? So let's bomb some buildings!". Becoming clearer that GCC/TK want to drag US back into ME

do the dirty work of checking Shia power in Baghdad, removing Assad, and injecting the money & troops to deal with the mess they created.

& let's not forget Israel is doing its bit by working w/ JAN at the ISR/SYR border. "Want to pivot to Asia? Well, pivot to Hell!"

Hate to say it, but US looks like it's totally getting its chain yanked by GCC, Israel, and Turkey,the most brutally inept actors in ME

& this IS campaign will be quite a bloody debacle

Is Obama really unwilling, yanked on by Netanyahoo, Erdogan and the Saudis, or is this going along his own plans? Bandolero and Chinahand think the first is the case. I am not so sure.

It reminds of those Russian peasants who lamented their lot in life with the phrase: "If only the Czar knew." They believed that if the leader only knew how bad things were, something would change. But of course the Czar did know but didn't care. 

A lot of Obama voters seem to be a bit like those peasants: "If only he could". "If only he were not surrounded by those gastly other folks". "If only those damned Middle Easterners would not yank him into war".

So what is it? Was Obama "yanked" into the new Middle East war or were these his plans all along?

Posted by b at 12:43 PM | Comments (114)

October 07, 2014

Ukraine: Waiting For Jack Frost

As little new as happening in Ukraine I refrained from writing on the issue. But there still seems to be a lot of interests in the comments so please have at it.

The Minsk ceasefire is largely holding even as daily battles occurs at the Donetsk airport. There coup-government troops are holed up in the nuclear bunkers beneath the airport and resist all attacks from the federalists while other government units indiscriminately shell the city every day.

But that fight is a bit of a sideshow. The government troops have lost too much material to go on a large offense and the federalists currently lack resupplies from Russia and are thereby restricted to generally defensive positions.

Russia is for now happy with the situation. It sits comfortable and waits for its largest traditional ally, Jack Frost, to come and to squeeze the Ukrainian government into further concessions. As the Washington Post editors with weeping and gnashing of teeth remark:

Mr. Putin is on the cusp of achieving all his major objectives. In addition to Crimea, he has captured a strategic slice of territory containing up to 10 percent of Ukraine’s population, creating a “frozen conflict” that he can use to keep the rest of the country permanently destabilized. He has bluffed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and the European Union into postponing the implementation of an economic-association agreement that was the original cause of the conflict. He has pushed Ukraine’s economy into a free fall likely to intensify this winter, especially if Moscow fails to deliver supplies of gas or purchase Ukraine’s goods. If the Kiev government manages to hold successful elections this month and begins to find its footing, Mr. Putin can use his Donetsk clients to restart the war whenever he wishes.

The editorial puts too much hope on the coup government and fails to mention that the Ukraine, or what is left of it, is a crumbling cookie:

Poroshenko, who represents and pleases practically no one besides his Western patrons, finds himself exceptionally isolated, being opposed on all sides and to different degrees by Pravy Sektor, pro-war provocateurs, anti-war activists, and the remaining Russian speakers. With such tense societal fractures, Ukraine seems to be living up to its name as a ‘frontier’, albeit not only one between East and West, but now of one Ukrainian against the other.

The WaPo editors demand more sanctions on Russia or at least no lifting of those already applied. But they are unlikely to have their wishes fulfilled.

There are already signs that the U.S. (and NATO) is trying to make peace with Russia. The U.S. needs Russia in many international venues. When, for example, a solution is found in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, the U.S. will need Russian (and Chinese) agreement to conclude an agreement.

For now the Russian government only needs to wait for winter to come. The political fallout of the internal disunity in Kiev will then become even more apparent as will the costs the "west" will have to bear to keep Ukraine alive.

The current stalemate may not be to the liking of those fighting for Novorussiya but without Russian support and supplies they have few means to change the situation. They should now hole up for winter and prepare for a new campaign in spring.

Posted by b at 10:37 AM | Comments (280)

U.S. Finally Reacts To Islamic State Attack On Kobane

After days of doing nothing while the Islamic State fighters encroached on Kobane the U.S. finally started air strikes against IS positions. Reporters near the locations said that several IS tanks were hit.

I assume that it was becoming too awkward to keep up all the rhetoric about the "evil" of the Islamic State while the world media were standing on a hill in south Turkey looking over the border at Kobane, counting the IS tanks surrounding the city and reporting exactly zero U.S. or Turkish attacks on them.

One wonders how the Turkish president Erdogan will feel about these attacks now. He tried to use the Islamic State advance to blackmail first the Kurds in Kobane and then the United States.

His demands to the Kurdish leader of the YPG forces holding the city in exchange for some help were: 1) Cut ties with Assad 2) Join the Free Syrian Army and fight Assad 3) Accept a Turkish buffer zone in Syria on your grounds 4) Stop any striving for independence 5) Do not threaten Turkey. The Kurds rejected these conditions.

Towards the United States Erdogan demanded that the U.S. should set the priority on destroying the Syrian government if it wants any Turkish help in its fight against the Islamic State. It should also install a no-fly-zone over Syria acting, like in Libya, as the insurgent's air force and it should support a Turkish buffer zone within Syria.

Especially after the recent spat between Erdogan and Biden I find it unlikely that Obama agreed to Erdogan's and believe that the air attacks today were ordered against Turkey's wishes.

How will Erdogan respond to this? The Kurds will have taken note of his behavior and the war the Kurdish PKK in Turkey waged against the state may soon become hot again. With his relations with all neighbors and now also with U.S. damaged one of Erdogan's few political successes, the peace negotiations with the Kurds, is now also in tatters. Who will he blame for this latest mistake?

After Washington dithered these attacks now come too late. While over the last week Islamic State forces were more or less out in the open around Kobane and easy targets they are now within the city and thereby much difficult to hit from the air. It is also somewhat disconcerting that the U.S. Central Command reports attacks on Kobane and Ayn al-Arab as two categories as if those were different places and not just the Kurdish and Arabic names for and the very same city.

Still - while the whole campaign against the Islamic State is likely to fail I do find it important that at least the heavy weapons it controls get destroyed before they create more suffering and damage.

Posted by b at 07:45 AM | Comments (47)

October 05, 2014

Sitrep Iraq And Syria

A situation report gathered from public and private news sources.

In north east Syria next to the Turkish border fighters from the Islamic State are besieging the Kurdish fighters of the YPG. Up until this afternoon media in Turkey could watch right across the border and see Islamic State tanks surrounding the city. Despite clearly visible and identifiable targets there were no U.S. airstrikes to fend off the IS attack and the Turkish army kept the border close.

One mortar shell, very likely fired by the Islamic State, hit a house on the Turkish side. The army then declared the area a no-go zone and started to evacuate the village on its side. Some month ago errant mortar shells fired by the Syrian army had hit some vegetable fields in Turkey. The Turks retaliated for that with artillery fire. There was no such reaction when the IS mortar hit today.

Media in the area were told to leave and while they were leaving vans with the crews from CNN and BBC were fired on with tear gas by Turkish police/troops. Two vans had their back windows broken with tear gas grenades landing inside (vid). The Turks clearly have no interest in letting the public know what is now happening in Kobane. This evening Kurdish media reported firefights within the city.

In Iraq the Islamic State today attacked Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar, and took over most parts of it. The Iraqi Security Forces have allegedly left the city.

IS now controls the axis Hit, Ramadi, Fallujah and highway 1 between Baghdad and Jordan and highway 12 between Baghdad and Syria. The only significant town left between the IS controlled area west of Baghdad and Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) is Abu Ghraib where a quite intense IS presence has already been reported. Should IS be able to set up some of the artillery it earlier captured in Abu Ghraib it could close down BIAP and thereby make any evacuation of U.S. personal a challenge.

The U.S. today used AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to attack IS positions in Ramadi and Hit. Such helicopters are vulnerable to ground fire and would not be used unless the need is dire. The Apaches are stationed at BIAP with the sole purpose of protecting the airport.

Some U.S. paid mercenaries from the Free Syrian Army took a Syrian government position at al-Hurrah half way between the Jordan border and south Damascus. They came from a western direction where they, together with Jabhat al-Nusra, have positions next to the Golan height demarcation zone with Israel and are protected by Israeli artillery. Videos showed them using plenty of U.S. provided TOW anti-tank missiles.

A group of Jabhat al-Nusra fighters coming from the Golan zone tried to attack a Hizbullah position in east Lebanon. They were ambushed and lost some 30 fighters.

North of Aleppo the Syrian army has nearly closed the ring around Aleppo and insurgents who have occupied some parts of the city will soon be under a tight siege.

A big number of Ahrar al-Shams fighters in Aleppo province have today pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. IS will soon be the only anti-Syrian-government game in town.

Posted by b at 03:38 PM | Comments (74)

Hubris "Far Beyond" Any Borders

The Washington Post claims:

A recent spate of dangerous midair encounters between American military aircraft and Chinese and Russian planes in the Pacific is the result of increasingly assertive strategies by both U.S. adversaries to project power far beyond their borders, according to the top U.S. Air Force commander in the region.

Far beyond their borders? That is a bit curious as neither China nor Russia have, besides their nuclear missiles, any real military capability for such power projection. So how "far beyond their borders" does this really go?

[Air Force Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, the head of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, ] said U.S. and Chinese forces are frequently encountering each other in parts of the East China and South China seas ... China’s navy has conducted more exercises farther away from its shores and is closely patrolling areas in disputed waters where Chinese companies are drilling for oil.
...
That incident occurred in international airspace about 135 miles east of China’s Hainan Island.

Funny how all the incidents listed to provide examples for China's power projection "in the Pacific" and "far beyond" its borders happened in the two China seas and near the Chinese shoreline.

Now how about Russian power projection "far beyond" its borders?

On Sept. 17, U.S. fighter jets intercepted a half-dozen Russian military planes — two fighter jets, two long-range bombers and two refueling tankers — as they were flying in international airspace near the coast of Alaska.

Umm - is that the same Alaska from which a certain U.S. vice president candidate could actually see Russia? That then must really be "far beyond" Russia's borders, right?

Really, how dare these countries to have their borders so very near to U.S. ships and air-planes?

I find the hubris expressed in such nonsensical claims "far beyond" any rationality.

Posted by b at 08:25 AM | Comments (53)

October 04, 2014

Hong Kong: The "Radicalize Or Fold" Alternative

The protest in Hong Kong, instigated by U.S. financed groups, were on the verge of ending in a fizzle.

Hong Kong protests dwindle after talks offer

Mass protests in Hong Kong appear to have lost steam after the leader of the Chinese territory refused to step down, instead offering dialogue.
...
The Hong Kong Federation of Students said in a statement early on Friday that they planned to join the talks with the government, focused specifically on political reforms. They reiterated that Leung step down, saying he "had lost his integrity".

A wider pro-democracy group that had joined the demonstrations, Occupy Central, welcomed the talks and also insisted that Leung quit.

The offer for talks, the weather and the end of a two day holiday was the point where the protests largely died down. A few diehards kept blocking streets and buildings but the end was in sight.

Remarked a political editor of a U.S. magazine:

Blake Hounshell
‏@blakehounshell

When protesters don't get at least some of what they want, they have to radicalize or fold. Key moment in Hong Kong right now.

5:36 AM - 2 Oct 2014

It seems that other people had the same thought and some idea of how to radicalize the crowd:

Hundreds of people opposed to Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrations converged on one of the movement's main sites Friday, prompting some of the ugliest scenes of violence yet in the past week of protests.

In the early afternoon on Friday, opponents of the demonstrations moved en masse against the occupation site in the neighborhood of Mong Kok, a popular shopping district across the harbor from Hong Kong. They dismantled tents and removed the protesters' supplies. Scuffles broke out, with reports of roving street battles between protesters and their opponents.

The predictable consequence of that attack, certainly not in the interest of the government, was a revival of the protests and a hardening of the protesters position:

Student leaders called off talks with the government – offered the previous night – accusing officials of allowing violence to be used against them. It dashed the hopes of a resolution to a mass movement that has seen tens of thousands of people take to the streets of the city at its height.

So who paid the thugs, the police says some attackers were members of criminal triads, who instigated the radicalization? The government which wants to end the protests, the businesspeople who lose money due to the blockades or some three letter agency of foreign provenience?

The government now announced that it will end the protesters' blockades of public roads and buildings by Monday. As I had warned in an earlier piece:

While earlier Color Revolutions employed mostly peaceful measures the aim now is blood in the streets and lots of infrastructure damage to weaken the forces resisting the regime change attempts. Accordingly the authorities in Hong Kong should prepare for much more than just unruly demonstrations.

Posted by b at 08:38 AM | Comments (134)

October 03, 2014

Israel Lobby Supports Jabhat Al-Nusra, Insurgents In Aleppo Surrounded

Israel gives cover and opened a corridor for Jabhat al-Nusra along the Golan height demarcation line to reach south Lebanon and the southern approaches to Damascus.

There seems to be no concern in Tel Aviv that one day Jabhat al-Nusra could turn against Israel too. That is somewhat astonishing as both Hizbullah and Hamas started with Israeli support as counterweights to the Palestinian Liberation Organization only to later become the most capable foes of the Israeli occupation forces. One might have thought that Israeli strategists had learned from such foolishness.

But obviously they have not and now their lobby in the United States, here in form of the Washington Institute, supports that dumb policy by calling for further support for the Al-Qaida affiliate:

The risk of empowering an al Qaida affiliate is a small price to pay for Nusra’s contributions on the battlefield, said Jeffrey White, a former senior Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who’s now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank.

But while the White House Syria policy is foolish enough to continue its feud against the Syrian president Assad it is unlikely to give direct support, silently or openly, to a designated part of Al-Qaeda.

That would be of no help anyway. Jabhat al-Nusra recently lost several hundred of its fighters. These left their positions in Idleb and Aleppo and went to Raqqa in east Syria to join the Islamic State. This again enabled the Syrian army to regain control over several villages east of Damascus and to now close the ring around the insurgency held parts of Aleppo. Cut off from resupply and under constant bombardment those parts will likely fall within a few weeks.

Posted by b at 09:11 AM | Comments (75)

October 01, 2014

Syria: Turkey's Plans And Other Confused Thinking

Under U.S. pressure the Turkish parliament will vote tomorrow on joining the coalition against the Islamic State. But that will only be a disguise. The real aim of the Turkish president Erdogan is to install a puppet Islamist regime in Damascus. That is the price he is asking for:

Turkey will not allow coalition members to use its military bases or its territory in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) if the objective does not also include ousting the Bashar al-Assad regime, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hinted on Oct. 1.

Erdogan's Turkey is cooperating with the Islamic State, partly for ideological reasons, partly out of fear the Islamic State fighters in Turkey would attack within the country.

Erdogan is now planning for some Turkish controlled border zone in Syria where he could train anti-Syrian forces and continue to deal we the Islamic State out of the eyes of interested observers. The likely false pretense for a Turkish invasion in Syria will be a tomb under Turkish protection which has been for some time surrounded, but never attacked, by IS fighters:

Yeni Safak, a pro-government daily, said that as many as 1,100 fighters of the Islamic State, which now controls more one-third of Iraq and one-third of Syria, had deployed around the shrine of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire. [...] Turkey maintains an honor guard and protective detachment of 36 troops at the tomb, which lies about about 15 miles inside Syria.

Another reason to occupy a border zone within Syria are the Kurdish held areas within Syria under control of the YPG, a sister organization of the Kurdish PKK which is fighting for Kurd rights within Turkey. The area around Kobane is currently under attack by the Islamic State and neither Turkey nor the U.S. is doing anything to prevent a takeover there:

[I]n recent days, the Islamic State has been advancing, and the U.S. coalition, no doubt spurred on by Turkey’s fears that the YPG is allied with its own Kurdish separatist insurgents, hasn’t come to the rescue. When Turkish Kurds tried to send in fighters, the Turkish government stopped them, using tear gas.On Tuesday there was no sign of more volunteers, and none of the two dozen or so returning Kobane residents said they intended to join the militia, and a sense of hopelessness swept those who’d fled.

Russia has given warnings to Turkey to not proceed with its plans. Moscow surely has contingency plans for further support of Syria should the U.S. or Turkey attack the Syrian government.

During the last week the Islamic State has pulled back some of its fighters around Damascus. This has allowed the Syrian army to widen its protection zone around the city. But the last time the Islamic State pulled back, then in north-west Syria, the planned retreat was followed by the big attack on Mosul. The current retreat around Damascus is therefore likely in preparation for yet another big push against an unknown bigger target.

The U.S. acting against the Islamic State seems to be without any strategic framework. It has none to little intelligence about the targets it attacks and the lack of care of civilian casualties is quite astonishing. If this continues the U.S. will again end up as the one party hated by all other parties of the conflict.

The confused thinking is not limited to the White House. For the last three years the Washington Post's David Ignatius has propagandized for a united "moderate opposition" in Syria. That pink pony has yet to arrive. But he today has a new great idea of how to finally reach that aim: "Bomb Christians and more civilians":

[I]f U.S. airstrikes and other support are seen to be hitting Muslim fighters only, and strengthening the despised Assad, this strategy for creating a “moderate opposition” will likely fail.

Posted by b at 01:26 PM | Comments (147)

September 29, 2014

The (NED Financed) Hong Kong Riots

Some organized "student groups" in Hong Kong tried to occupy government buildings and blocked some streets. The police did what it does everywhere when such things happen. It used anti-riot squads, pepper spray and tear gas to prevent occupations and to clear the streets.

The "western" media are making some issue about this as if "western" governments would behave any differently.

The alleged issue in question is the election of new Hong Kong chief executive in 2017. According to Hong Kong's basic law, which was implemented when Britain gave up its dictatorship over the colony, there will be universal suffrage - everyone will be allowed to vote - but the candidates for the position will have to go through some pre-screening by a commission. This is what China had promised and this is what the students, falsely claiming that China is backtracking from its promises, want to change.

Peter Lee aka Chinahand has an excellent piece on the issue at Asia Times Online. But Lee is making one mistake in that he does not consider outside influence:

Occupy Hong Kong decided to light it, starting with a class boycott and demonstrations organized by the Hong Kong Federation of Students. And, since I’m never afraid to mix a metaphor, the Hong Kong government poured fuel on the fire by pepper-spraying and teargassing it.

Who really "decided to light this"? To me the protests, and the "western" reporting about it, have the distinct smell not of tear gas but of some expensive Color Revolution perfume of "western" origin.

So lets look up the usual source of such exquisite fragrance. The 2012 annual report of the U.S. government financed National Endowment of Democracy, aka the CCA - Central Color-Revolution Agency, includes three grants for Hong Kong one of which is new for 2012 and not mentioned in earlier annual reports:

National Democratic Institute for International Affairs - $460,000

To foster awareness regarding Hong Kong's political institutions and constitutional reform process and to develop the capacity of citizens - particularly university students - to more effectively participate in the public debate on political reform, NDI will work with civil society organizations on parliamentary monitoring, a survey, and development of an Internet portal, allowing students and citizens to explore possible reforms leading to universal suffrage.

So the U.S. government in 2012 (2013 numbers are not yet available) hands over nearly half a million to "develop the capacity" of "university students" related to the issue of "universal suffrage" in the election of Hong Kong's chief executive.

Two years after the money starts to flow from the U.S. government university students in Hong Kong provoke street riots with demands exactly on the issue the U.S. government money wanted to highlight.

That is just some curious coincidence - right?

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PS (1): There is no reason to believe that a majority of the people in Hong Kong are supporting the U.S. induced demands of the "students". Hong Kong has some 7 million inhabitants. Ten to twenty thousands protesting amounts to some rather marginal 0.2% of the population.

PS (2): We noted earlier that the new Color Revolution scheme 2.0 - see Libya, Syria, Ukraine - now includes lots of violence:

Color revolutions in the old form had become too obvious a scheme to be of further use. The concept was therefore extended to include intensive use of force and mercenaries and to support those forces from the outside with weapons, ammunition, training and other means.

While earlier Color Revolutions employed mostly peaceful measures the aim now is blood in the streets and lots of infrastructure damage to weaken the forces resisting the regime change attempts. Accordingly the authorities in Hong Kong should prepare for much more than just unruly demonstrations.

PS (3): The NDI through which the NED money was funneled is the Democratic Party arm for regime change campaigns. It also does quite a bit of other Hong Kong meddling by financing various other organizations. Such foreign agents need to be restrained.

Posted by b at 12:48 PM | Comments (231)

September 27, 2014

A "Responsibility To Protect" Mercenaries?

From a recent Senate Committee on Armed Services hearing on Iraq and Syria picked up by Micah Zenko:

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): I take it from your answer that we are now recruiting these young men to go and fight in Syria against ISIL, but if they’re attacked by Bashar Assad, we’re not gonna help them?

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: They will defend themselves, Senator.

MCCAIN: Will we help them against Assad’s air…

HAGEL: We will help them and we will support them, as we have trained them.

MCCAIN: How will we help them—will we repel Bashar Assad’s air assets that will be attacking them?

HAGEL: Any attack on those that we have trained and who are supporting us, we will help ‘em.

The Pentagon confirmed to Zenko that Hagel meant what he said.

But what does this really mean? One hires a bunch of young fanatics, trains them to kill and sends them to fight some foreign government. Then, when that foreign government dares to defend itself against the mercenary goons, one has a "Responsibility To Protect" them? What a sorry illegal excuse for waging a war of aggression.

There is more of such nonsense coming up again. New talk of a "no-fly zone" as the U.S. is somehow the only one allowed to bomb civilians in Iraq and Syria and also new talk of some kind of buffer zone along the Turkish border.

I don't believe that any of these things will happen. Syria and its allies do have the means to block any legal justification for such issues and they have the means to deter against their implementation.

The policy the Obama administration is trying to implement now is too contradictory and not sustainable. It wants to destroy the ideological fighters of the Islamic State with the support of the states, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are based on the same ideology the IS fighters espouse and in which significant parts of the populations support the Islamic State. Obama wants recruit Turkey while the Islamic State is fighting against the Kurd paramilitaries from the PKK/YPK. Turkey has for decades fought against the PKK and the struggle has cost tens of thousands of death. It is also supportive of the Islamic State and similar movements in Syria.

The U.S. wants to bomb the IS in support of the "moderate rebels" who are protesting against such bombing:

The protesters singled out the reported deaths of a dozen or so civilians in the town of Kafr Daryan in northern Idlib province, where a U.S. cruise missile allegedly struck a building that housed displaced people near a base belonging to al Qaida’s Nusra Front.

These "moderate rebels" will now likely put themselves under the command of the Islamic State.

This policy and the lunatic alliances it is based on will break apart. Has there ever been a coalition with such discrepancies that has held throughout the ups and downs of a war? I do not know where, when and how the breaking up will occur but such a mess is simply not sustainable.

That is why I believe that Hagel's "R2P for mercenaries" is just nonsense and something that will never be implemented.

Posted by b at 11:34 AM | Comments (185)

September 25, 2014

A Too Complicated Game: Obama's Deals With The Saudis And Al-Nusra

According to the Wall Street Journal Obama made a deal with the Saudis. They will lend legitimacy for his attacks against the Islamic State and AlQaeda in Syria (aka Jabhat al-Nusra) and he will later overthrow the Syrian government under president Assad. Like the Saudi prince Bandar, who nutured the Jihadists, was ousted over it, but is now back in the deal, the neocon editors of The Economist are doing victory jumps. They managed to get the U.S. back into their war. Hurray!

But as I understand it Obama's part of the deal is supposed come only later. It will take a year to train the "moderate, vetted" insurgents in Saudi Arabia and only when those are ready, and Obama a lame duck, may such action start (or not). U.S. voters know very well that Obama always keeps his promises (not). A year can be a quite a long time and who knows what will happen in between.

The urgency of the deal with the Saudis may have come because some folks felt a time-critical need to attack the al-Qaeda (Jabhat al-Nusra) leadership in Syria. It may also have come from the low polls of Obama's leadership and his need to keep the Senate in the hands of Democrats after Novembers election. The second reason seems more likely.

To justify the hit on the leadership group it had to be differentiated from the ""the moderate Jihadis" al-Nusra organization with which there is cooperation on other issues. The "Khorasan" group was invented and a FUD campaign launched to justify the attack. The U.S. media predictably ate it all up and propagandized every fearmongering bit of what "officials said" about Khorasan. Only after the attack has taken place are doubts allowed to be aired:

Several of Mr. Obama’s aides said Tuesday that the airstrikes against the Khorasan operatives were launched to thwart an “imminent” terrorist attack, possibly using concealed explosives to blow up airplanes. But other American officials said that the plot was far from mature, and that there was no indication that Khorasan had settled on a time or location for the attack — or even on the exact method of carrying out the plot.

Some speculation: Jabhat al-Nusra is a nominal part of the al-Qaeda organization. It was led by al-Qaeda veterans who had been fighting in AfPak but came to Syria when the insurgency started. The U.S. relabeled these veterans the "Khorasan" group to have some reason to separately eliminate them. Their replacement may well turn out to be local men currently leading the groups in southern Syria and willing to further cooperate with USrael. A new version of the moderate cuddly homegrown al-Qaeda ploy.

The whole game played within the various proxy wars within the current Syriraq war is becoming increasingly complicate. I would not be astonished to see Obama throw the towel on this whole affair. After the November election he may well say "enough" and just leave the chaos behind him.

Posted by b at 12:45 PM | Comments (146)

September 24, 2014

WaPo Propaganda vs. McClatchy Journalism

Washington Post

At least on the first day of bombing, there was little public backlash, with virtually no outcry beyond a pro-Islamic State protest in Istanbul."

McClatchy

On Facebook, critics of the U.S. and its Arab allies, calling them “aggressors” and the “Crusade Coalition,” dominated the postings Tuesday by almost 10 to 1.

Washington Post

The attacks against the Islamic State militants were openly welcomed by rebels who have fought for three years against the government of President Bashar al- Assad.

McClatchy

Raad Alawi, the commander of a smaller group of fighters, the Squadrons of Al Haq, told McClatchy he was very angry.“Starting the war with the bombing of Nusra is an indication that this is a war against the revolution and not Daash,” he said, using the pejorative Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “Maybe next they will bomb the bases of the Free Syrian Army.”
The Hazm movement, which also receives U.S. and international support, issued a statement condemning the airstrikes, the failure to consult the Free Syrian Army and the deaths of civilians.

Posted by b at 01:45 PM | Comments (64)

September 23, 2014

Concealed By U.S. Airstrikes Israel Opens Nusra Path To Lebanon

Screenshot from the current NYT homepage:

The first piece is about the U.S. air attack last nights against various targets in east Syria. The second piece right next to it explains that such strikes in Iraq have had little effect. The juxtaposition demonstrates the futility of today's bombing campaign, part of the ongoing wars of proxy in Syria. As a result the Islamic State will only gain further legitimacy.

The U.S. and some "coalition" of Arab dictatorships bombed various targets related to the Islamic State in east Syria. The Syrian government was informed about the attack and did not overly protest against it.

The U.S. did not attack IS positions around the northern Syrian city Kobane where the IS is fighting against Kurdish militia in an attempt to open up a new logistic path for the IS to Turkey. Agreeing to this new logistic path was probably part of the price Turkey paid for recently getting its diplomats freed from IS internment.

The U.S. alone additionally bombed a target related to one specific part of Jabhat al-Nusra in north west Syria. It claims that it hit the "Khorasan group". But that groups is just a Pentagon FUD invention. It is nothing but the a segment of the long established leadership group of al Nusra. While ISIS had prepared for the announced U.S. air attacks and dispersed its personal and material Jabhat al-Nusra was unprepared and lost some 50 of its fighters. One of the Nusra leaders, Mohsen al-Fadli al-Kuwaiti, was killed in this attack.

Also today the Syrian airforce wanted to bomb Jabhat al-Nusra positions in the Golan heights where Nusra is, as first reported here, opening a corridor from Jordan towards Lebanon and for attacks on Damascus right along the demarcation line between Israel and Syria. Israel, in quite open support effort for the Nusra plan, shot down the Syrian SU-24 using U.S. provided Patriot missiles. While Israel claims that the plane violated its border the reported crash site was far from the border near Kanaker, Syria which is halfway between the demarcation line and Damascus.

Under the protection of the U.S. attack on IS and other targets Israel now practically established a no-fly-zone next to the Golan which will allow Jabhat al-Nusra to safely use the corridor and to attack Hizbullah in Qalamoun and in south Lebanon. It also opens space for new attacks on Damascus.

The U.S. attack on the IS in Syria will, as the NYT headlines express, have as little effect as such attacks have in Iraq. Without coordinating air attacks with a capable, available ground force like the Syrian army such strikes on IS will make no conceivable difference. I have yet to see any report that the U.S. planes have hit some of the major weapons or ammunition depots the IS captured from the Iraqi army. There are some 50 main battle tanks and lots of heavy artillery pieces in the hands of IS. What is done to disable those?

Posted by b at 08:43 AM | Comments (106)

September 22, 2014

Why The Islamic State Announced Retaliation

One Shaykh Abū Muhammad al-‘Adnānī ash-Shāmī, allegedly the number two of the Islamic State, gave a speech today (English translation, pdf) and asked Islamic State followers everywhere to attack the countries that promised to wage war against the IS.

Now the man may be, just like earlier instances of al-Baghdad, fictional. But that does not make the speech irrelevant.

One can argue that this is in attempt by the Islamic State to deter any additional attacks on it. But if that was the intend then it is likely to fail. The "west", i.e. the U.S., is much too aggressive and secure to be deterred and such threats will merely increase the push for another decade of wars. The military machine is already reeving up and by now nearly impossible to stop. The U.S. is rebuilding its former Forward Operating Base Speicher north of Tikrit as operations center for the next phases and coming escalations.

The Obama's administration argument that the IS was a threat to the "west", and those foggy "interests" it always claims to have, was false. The Islamic State did not start this war as a war against the "west". That happened for two reasons. One is obvious - it was attacked and it had to respond:

[E]fforts to establish its version of an Islamic caliphate unsettled the wider region, prompting U.S. airstrikes aimed at stemming its advance.

The Islamic militant group has responded by beheading three of its Western hostages in recent weeks
...
The killings of Foley and Sotloff took place after the U.S. military began airstrikes against ISIS positions in Iraq ..

Now, after nearly 200 U.S. and French airstrikes against it, a real threat of retaliation for these has been made.

To probably the surprise of many readers I had argued for airstrikes. But I was quite specific. Those airstrikes should have been against the heavy equipment the IS seized from the Iraqi and Syrian armies. It is that mountain of heavy equipment, not the running loons, that make IS dangerous to everyone in the Middle East.

It would take the U.S. air-force supported by special operation groups on the ground only a few weeks to reduce the Islamic State to an infantry force incapable of larger geographic actions.

This video of the recent IS attacks on the (Kurdish) Syrian city of Kobane show the IS fighters successfully using main battle tanks and several pieces of heavy artillery. The Syrian air-force for now stopped that attack on the city by destroying a bridge which the attackers needed. But it is the heavy equipment (and the ammunition for it) that needs to be destroyed.

But back to that speech. Shaykh al-Adnani claims another reason for his call to war:

Cont. reading: Why The Islamic State Announced Retaliation

Posted by b at 02:06 PM | Comments (81)

September 21, 2014

U.S. Launches New FUD Campaign

Dear Americans, last week we told you to be very, very afraid of this Caliph guy. You know the one that may blow up your car tires or something else. We were all wrong with that.

Now look there, no there, THERE! Notice that other guy you never, ever heard about? He is the real menace. He will really blow things up. May be even your car engine!

U.S. Suspects More Direct Threats Beyond ISIS

As the United States begins what could be a lengthy military campaign against the Islamic State, intelligence and law enforcement officials said another Syrian group, led by a shadowy figure who was once among Osama bin Laden’s inner circle, posed a more direct threat to America and Europe.

American officials said that the group called Khorasan had emerged in the past year as the cell in Syria that may be the most intent on hitting the United States or its installations overseas with a terror attack. The officials said that the group is led by Muhsin al-Fadhli, a senior Qaeda operative who, according to the State Department, was so close to Bin Laden that he was among a small group of people who knew about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before they were launched.

Scarry stuff, ain't it? 9/11, 9/11, 9/11. Now why care about the hundreds of Syrians, Kurds and Iraqis ISIS is killing with weapons we provided. Look at this new guy and his group who are a much better bogeyman because:

There is almost no public information about the Khorasan group, ...

That's right. No one ever heard of them. It's only us who tell you they are there. Now bend over already! Why?

Members of the cell are said to be particularly interested in devising terror plots using concealed explosives. It is unclear who, besides Mr. Fadhli, is part of the Khorasan group.

Bend over already! Open up! Can't let anyone fly without a thorough inspection. Now fear, Fear FEAR!

Fear, doubt, uncertainty. That's how we rule!

Posted by b at 06:47 AM | Comments (92)

September 20, 2014

Open Thread 2014-22

News & views ...

Posted by b at 02:05 PM | Comments (116)

September 19, 2014

CIA Anti-Syria Program Finances Wahhabi Headchoppers


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The picture of the man above is cut from a one that  accompanies a NYT piece about the CIA support for the Syrian "rebels". The caption says the man is "A rebel leader, Sheikh Tawfiq Shahabuddin, right, on Monday in Reyhanli, Turkey."

The type of beard (no mustache) and the cloth clearly identify the man as a Salafi/Wahhabi who believes that everyone should live like in the times of Mohammed.

As Ben Hubbard, one of the more reliable NYT journalists, writes:

In a secret office near the Syrian border here, intelligence agents from the United States and its allies are laying the groundwork for what they hope will become an effective force of Syrian rebels to serve as ground troops in the international battle against the extremist Islamic State.

The office, the Military Operations Command, has slowed funding to Islamist groups, paid salaries to thousands of “vetted” rebels and given them ammunition to boost their battlefield mettle.
...
most of the support from governments who back the rebels is now channeled through the Military Operations Command. [...] the military command has built direct ties with rebel leaders it deems moderate and active inside Syria.
...
It is now paying monthly salaries of at least $100 to about 10,000 fighters in northern Syria, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a covert program.

Now here comes the guy in the picture, very likely taken in the CIA run "secret office" Ben Hubbard visited:

“The international position has to be to fight all kinds of terrorism, both ISIS and the regime,” said Sheikh Tawfiq Shahabuddin, the head of the Nureddin Zengi Movement. “You can’t treat only one part of the disease.”

This Salafi nutjob is paid by the CIA. That he is no "moderate" is not only obvious from his outer appearance but also from the name he has chosen for his movement, Nureddin Zengi:

Nūr ad-Dīn Abū al-Qāsim Maḥmūd ibn ʿImād ad-Dīn Zangī (February 1118 – 15 May 1174), also known as Nur al-Din (from Arabic: نور الدين‎, "Light of the Faith") or Nur ed-Din, was a member of the Turkic Zengid dynasty which ruled the Syrian province of the Seljuk Empire. He reigned from 1146 to 1174.
...
In 1146, Nur ad-Din massacred the entire Christian population of [Edessa] and destroyed its fortifications,[1] in punishment for assisting Joscelin in this attempt. Although according to Thomas Asbridge, the women and children of Edessa were enslaved. He secured his hold on Antioch after crushing Raymond of Poitiers at the Battle of Inab in 1149, even presenting to the caliph, Raymond's severed head and arms.

That, dear U.S. taxpayer, is the cause the CIA finances with your money.

Posted by b at 02:16 PM | Comments (101)

September 18, 2014

The Dishonest Reporting Of Anne Barnard

Anne Barnard reports from Beirut for the New York Times on the war on Syria. The Angry Arab has several times called out her biased and misleading writings. But today's report on Syrian air attacks is probably the worst she has ever written:

In Talbiseh and across Syria, insurgent fighters who oppose the government of President Bashar al-Assad and the foreign-led militants of the extremist group called the Islamic State are being pummeled by a new wave of attacks and assassination attempts.
...
Insurgents of all stripes, except for the Islamic State group, say the Syrian government appears to be stepping up its attacks on them ahead of the threatened American air campaign. Pro-government and antigovernment analysts say Mr. Assad has an interest in eliminating the more moderate rebels, to make sure his forces are the only ones left to benefit on the ground from any weakening of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

Mr. Assad has maintained from the start of the conflict that he and his allies are the only force in Syria capable of battling the extremists effectively. But Islamic State activists in Homs said on Wednesday that there had been no recent government airstrikes against the group, adding to opposition suspicions that Mr. Assad prefers to focus on attacking his other opponents while letting the Islamic State’s unchecked brutality argue the case to Syria and the world that his rule is the best alternative.

Barnard is insinuating, not for the first time, that the Syrian government is not hitting ISIS but is solely hitting other insurgents. The "moderate", human liver eating insurgent groups the U.S. supports have claimed several times that there is some truce between ISIS and the government.

But that is a lie and Anne Bernard knows it is one because even her paper, the New York Times, reported on intensified Syrian air force attacks against ISIS targets only some ten days ago:

Raids by Syrian warplanes killed at least 25 people, most of them civilians crowding into a bakery, in the northeastern province of Raqqa on Saturday as government forces continued air attacks on territory controlled by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the extremist Sunni militant group.

The Syrian government has increased airstrikes on the group in recent months after it took over government military outposts in Raqqa in a series of newly assertive attacks.

Guess who wrote that report, just ten days ago, about "increased airstrikes on the group in recent months". Yes, the same Anne Barnard who now quotes and supports the false claims that the Syrian air force does not hit ISIS.

If there is something like journalistic honor Anne Barnard surely lost it.

There is of course a reason why Barnard is lying about the Syrian air-force attacks on ISIS.

Those attacks have indeed intensified and have become much more precise. During the last months Russia delivered new Yak-130 traing jets to Syria which are modified to enable ground attacks. The Syrian air-force MIG and Suchoi jets were update too and are now much more capable of precise targeting. The Syrian air-force is by now said to fly more than 100 sorties per day.

These new capabilities make it, of course, completely unnecessary for U.S. planes to attack ISIS targets in Syria. The Syrian air-force is quite capable of doing that on its own. Where it could need additional help is in intelligence on ISIS targets.

But the U.S. aim is "regime change" in Syria by whatever means and with total disregard of the consequences. Admitting that the Syrian air-force is capable and willing to attack ISIS would take away the pretense for those U.S. air strikes that are meant to destroy the Syrian government and to achive "regime change".

Posted by b at 06:37 AM | Comments (31)

September 17, 2014

The Scottish Independence Vote

It would be quite astonishing if the "Yes" vote would be allowed to win. There are too much money, personal political reputations and too many strategic assets involved for the "powers that are" to allow or accept a result that would not fit their plans.

Then again - why not hope for some really game changing event like Scottish independence, and the end of the big perfidious Albion, would be for Europe, NATO and the whole world?

Posted by b at 10:25 AM | Comments (172)

Confirmation Of Southern Damascus Attack Plans By Jabhat al-Nusra/CIA

The National newspaper published in the United Arab Emirates confirms our earlier report about the new Syrian insurgency positions in Quneitra at the Israeli Golan border as the launching pad for southern attacks on Damascus:

Western and Arab military advisers based in Amman have quietly stepped up their role on Syria’s southern front, helping win recent advances for opposition factions.

After weeks of heavy fighting, rebel groups announced the seizure of 80 per cent of Qunietra province on Saturday, including areas along the border with Israel. The territory could prove to be a key link between opposition forces in the south and those fighting in and around the Syrian capital.

Qunietra borders the south-west side of rural Damascus and rebel commanders say they will now be able to work on establishing a reliable supply chain to besieged opposition units in districts on the western and southern sides of the capital, areas that have been largely cut off by regime troops since last summer.

This is exactly what we, scooping The National, wrote about this plan.

What the new report misses though is the role Israel plays in protecting the insurgents in the Quneitra zone, mostly Islamists from Jabhat al-Nusra, from Syrian government attacks.

But The National does confirm the role of the joint Arab-American operations room in Amman, Jordan:

Rather than a dramatic increase in training or influx of weaponry [...] the growing role of a secretive Military Operations Command (MOC) centre in Amman has been subtle but distinct, in the form of increasingly focused, hands-on planning and coordination for rebel operations.
...
The organisational changes put in place by the MOC have helped clear jams in the chain of command that rebels complained had hamstrung their attempts to effectively work with international backers, in particular when it came to intelligence-sharing and coordinating units for attacks on regime forces.

McClatchy reporters recently interviewed the military commander of the Fee Syrian Army who claims that CIA is cutting him out and is, especially in the South, directly working with the insurgent groups on the ground:

Some 12 to 14 commanders receive military and non-lethal aid this way in northern Syria and some 60 smaller groups are recipients in southern Syria, al Bashir said. They report to the CIA.

The leadership of the FSA is American,” says the veteran officer, who defected from the Syrian army two years ago and won respect for leading rebel forces in southern Syria. “The Americans are completely marginalizing the military staff. Not even non-lethal aid comes through this office.”

The National notes:

This timing coincides with the rapid rise of Jabhat Al Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate, on the southern front.

But The National report then makes it look, without evidence, as if the CIA/MOC involvement is a counter move to the Jabhat al-Nusra rise

Bolstered by an increase in fighters and funding, Al Nusra, once considered a bit-player in southern Syria, suddenly seemed poised to become its most influential actor.

That prospect appears to have galvanised the western and Arab states involved with the southern front into more concerted action designed to better organise moderate factions.

The last paragraph is a rather wild assertion. Facts on ground, especially the Israeli protection for JAN in Queintra, are inconsistent with that claim. Instead the rise of Jabhat al-Nusra in the south and its prominent role in the Quneitra launching pad operation seem to be a consequence of the greater CIA involvement.

This conclusion is also supported by the earlier campaign in U.S. media which falsely established JAN, despite its sworn allegiance to al-Qaeda, as Your Moderate Cuddly Homegrown Al-Qaeda which is, so it is claimed, much less evil than the savages of ISIS.

Cont. reading: Confirmation Of Southern Damascus Attack Plans By Jabhat al-Nusra/CIA

Posted by b at 07:21 AM | Comments (28)

September 16, 2014

Israel Introduces Iran Bogeyman To Cover Up Its Military Help For ISIS JAN

/Correction/

Below I described the Islamist fighters covered by Israel in the Golan area as "ISIS". The sole source for qualifying those fighters as "ISIS" was from the UNDOC report quoted below: "the appearance of “black flags”—a symbol associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham".

"Black flags", associated by the UN report with ISIS, are also used by Jabhat al-Nusra and some other Islamic groups fighting in Syria. Current reports of insurgency activities in Quneitra do not mention ISIS at all but only Jabhat al-Nusra, Islamic Front and the Syrian Revolutionary Front which all have a different ideologies and are under different command chains than ISIS. It is therefore likely that these groups, not ISIS, were the ones observed by the UN forces in the area.

I have therefor now replaced the "ISIS" description in the original piece below.

/end correction/

In yesterday's post about attack plans against Damascus I mentioned Israeli cover fire for anti-Syrian Islamists occupying the Syrian side of the Golan demarcation zone:

This movement, [...], was supported by Israeli artillery strikes against Syrian units that tried to prevent it.

In what looks like an attempted to cover up the obvious Israeli military help for Islamist anti-government fighters the Jerusalem Post today quoted Israeli intelligence using the Iranian Revolutionary Guard bogeyman to justify such attacks (original link seem unreliable, copy here - Israeli Intel: Iranian Revolutionary Guards Directed Attacks On Israeli Border From Syria):

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which is present in Syria, directed a number of attacks by pro-Assad regime militias on Israel in recent months, according to Israeli intelligence evaluations.

In one such attack in June, a number of shells were fired by Syrian militias at IDF posts on Mount Hermon. There were no injuries or damages on the Israeli side, and the IDF responded by returning artillery fire.

That is quite a laughable tale. The story of that June incident is also definitely not what Israel told the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) which covered the area at that time:

On 17 June, Council members met to consider the 10 June UNDOF report, which detailed continued violations of the ceasefire line. [...] This report indicated that UNDOF had begun to observe that the more violent aspects of the conflict were now evident in its area of operations, including the use of airstrikes by the government, the use of heavy weapons and captured military equipment by armed opposition groups and the appearance of “black flags”—a symbol associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.
[...]
On 23 June, Israel targeted nine Syrian army positions with tank fire and air strikes after mortar fire from the Syrian side the previous day killed an Israeli civilian. Israel’s assessment is that most of these incidents are due to errant fire resulting from fighting in Syria. Israel said that armed opposition groups were probably responsible but that its forces fired on Syrian military positions to stress that Syria was responsible for security on its side of the ceasefire line.

There were ISIS "black flag" forces in the area fighting the Syrian army and some "errant fire" hit Israel. Israel suspected that ISIS "black flag" forces had fired the shells but responded by firing on Syrian government forces thereby helping ISIS "black flag" forces in its fight.

There were no ICRG force and no regime militias, only regular Syrian army troops. It were these troops that Israel attacked after ISIS "black flag" forces fired onto Israeli ground.

Similar happened on March 19:

Syria said one of its soldiers was killed and seven were injured when three army positions near the town of Quneitra were struck on the Syrian side of the cease-fire line between the two countries in the Golan Heights.

Israel said that the targets were an army training facility, a military headquarters and an artillery battery, and that the raid was a response to a bombing along the line Tuesday that injured four Israeli soldiers.
...
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman, said Israel did not know whether the Syrian army, its ally Hezbollah or the rebels they are fighting may have been responsible for planting the bomb. But Israel holds the Syrian army responsible, he said.

August 27:

Cont. reading: Israel Introduces Iran Bogeyman To Cover Up Its Military Help For ISIS JAN

Posted by b at 12:08 PM | Comments (47)

September 15, 2014

The New "Regime Change" Plan - Attack Damascus From The South

There are serious active preparations for a new attack on Damascus. Anti-government forces, including the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, have been trained and equipped in Jordan and are now moving into their starting position in Quneitra governate in south-west Syria. (A similar plan in spring 2013 was only partially executed and later aborted,)

Quneitra governate is a strip next to the Israel occupied Golan heights with a southern border to Jordan and a north western border with Lebanon.


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The anti-government forces cooperating for this operation are the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF), which is backed by the United States, assisted by the Islamic Front, backed by Saudi Arabia, and al-Qaeda's Jabhat al-Nusrah which just received some $20 million from Qatar. These forces infiltrated from Jordan through Daara and then up north-westward along the border with Israel. This movement, during which some UN observers were kidnapped by these forces, was supported by Israeli artillery strikes against Syrian units that tried to prevent it. The sole border station between Israel and Syria is now in the hands of the anti-government forces. The Israeli military is also providing medical support to these anti-government forces. The UN has pulled out all peacekeepers from the Syrian side of the Golan height demarcation line.

The anti-government forces now control a 40 miles (70km) long, three miles (5km) wide strip from Jordan along the Golan frontier up to Lebanon. This strip can be used to infiltrate into Hizbullah territory in south Lebanon but its main purpose is likely an attack on Damascus from the south. The Syrian military would have great difficulties to dislodge the anti-government forces from this strip as it is covered by Israeli anti-air and artillery fire.

There are rumors that Jabhat al-Nusra is leaving positions it has been holding in Hama governate in north Syria. It's groups are pulling back into Turkey to be transferred to Jordan and then as reinforcements into Quneitra.

The rather empty Quneitra area makes little sense to conquer except to be used as a launching pad for an attack from the south towards Damascus. The distance to the capital is only some 40 miles (60km). While two Syrian army divisions are stationed between Quneitra governate and Damascus coordinated air attacks against them could open and secure a route from Quneitra governate into the capital. Recent truce agreements between the U.S. supported Syrian Revolutionary Front and ISIS in the area south of Damascus may have been concluded with these attack plans in mind.

The U.S. military in the joint Arab-American operations room for the Syrian insurgency in Amman Jordan may well plan to use the murky new "war on ISIS" as pretext for attacks on the Syrian army divisions protecting Damascus from the south. Coordinated with a ground attack by Jabhat al-Nusra and others from Quneitra such air attacks would seriously degrade the Syrian forces and enable a destructive push into Damascus.

(update) Obama already announced the escalation path for such air attacks:

He made clear the intricacy of the situation, though, as he contemplated the possibility that Mr. Assad might order his forces to fire at American planes entering Syrian airspace. If he dared to do that, Mr. Obama said he would order American forces to wipe out Syria’s air defense system, which he noted would be easier than striking ISIS because its locations are better known. He went on to say that such an action by Mr. Assad would lead to his overthrow, according to one account.

The stampede to attack ISIS may have been pure maskirovka to hide this violent regime change attack plan against Syria under some "anti-terrorism" label. This at the same time as the plan is coordinated with and actively supported by Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, and made possible through truce agreements with ISIS.

Posted by b at 11:42 AM | Comments (122)

September 14, 2014

The Caliphate's Anti-Imperial/Imperial Dualism

A bit more on the tweets by Peter Lee aka Chinahand I had quoted:

Westerners mock pretensns of IS Caliphate bt it seems 2 strike chord among quite a few Muslims: effort to reestablish theocratic rule in 1/3
heartland of Umayyad/Abbasid caliphates, turn page on disastrus century of colonial/postcolonial rule, replace fragmented/corrupt states 2/3
w/ united Islamic power. West passivty validates the caliphate & its transnational strategy. May be PRC/Rus that try 2 draw the line. 3/3

(BTW - Denigrating those ideas because of shortened spelling in a Tweet(!) is petty.)

After further thinking about that I believe that Peter is right. ISIS, the group now claiming a Caliphate, might have had roots in some sectarian scheme the CIA and the U.S. Special Forces were running in Iraq. But it has by now far exceed that realm. The Caliphate is based on original Wahhabi ideas which were in their essence also anti-colonial and at first directed against the Ottoman rulers.

See Alastair Crooke's essays, You Can't Understand ISIS If You Don't Know the History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia and Middle East Time Bomb: The Real Aim of ISIS Is to Replace the Saud Family as the New Emirs of Arabia, on the origin and history of these thoughts.

After 1741 the minor Ibn Saud Bedouin tribe collaborated with the radical cleric Abd al-Wahhab to justify its expansion. Several decades later they became too successful and the Ottoman rulers, with the help of their Egyptian army, exterminated the movement and the first Saudi proto-state. When a hundred years later the Ottoman empire fell apart the Wahhabi ideas and the Saudi movement sprang back to life. But the Saudi rulers were now under British imperial influence and that required to put their Puritans down:

Abd-al Aziz, however, began to feel his wider interests to be threatened by the revolutionary "Jacobinism" exhibited by the Ikhwan. The Ikhwan revolted -- leading to a civil war that lasted until the 1930s, when the King had them put down: he machine-gunned them.

Wahhabism survived after that but in a crippled form subordinated to the ruling Saud family.

The new Caliphate followers are copies of the original Wahhabis who do not recognize nation states as those were dictated by the colonial "western" overlords after the end of the Ottoman empire. They do not recognize rulers that deviate, like the Saudi kings do, from the original ideas and subordinate themselves to "western" empires. It is their aim to replace them. As there are many people in Saudi Arabia educated in Wahhabi theology and not particular pleased with their current rulers the possibility of a Caliphate rush to conquer Saudi Arabia and to overthrow the Ibn Saud family is real.

In that aspect the Caliphate is anti-colonial and anti-imperial. That is part of what attracts its followers. At the same time the Caliphate project is also imperial in that it wants to conquer more land and wants to convert more people to its flavor of faith.

Both of these aspects make it a competitor and a danger to imperial U.S. rule-by-proxy in the Middle East. That is, I believe, why the U.S. finally decided to fight it. To lose Saudi Arabia to the Caliphate, which seems to be a real possibility, would be a devastating defeat.

Espousing a (reactionary) anti-imperial, anti-colonial ideology while at the same time furthering an imperial project is not as strange as it appears. The U.S. itself is of anti-colonial heritage and is now trying to establish a global empire. This dualism requires some serious doublethink. Billmon wrote a short Twitter essay yesterday on how the originally anti-colonial U.S. and its officials now have to lie to themselves to justify their imperialism. See also Guest77's comment on the unconscious doublethink of U.S. officials. They lie to a New York Times reporter one day then read their lies the next morning, believe them and feel confirmed in their false views.

There is not that much difference between the unaltered Wahhabi ideology ISIS espouses and the puritanical believes of the first white conquerors in North America. The anti-imperial/imperial duality is only one commonality. Indeed I believe that there are quite a lot parallels between both movements.

Posted by b at 01:10 PM | Comments (130)

September 12, 2014

Some Links On That "War On ISIS"

Just some snippets and headlines on that non-war on ISIS.

On training, arming the "moderate rebels" there is pessimism all around:

“We need to do everything we can to figure out who the non-ISIS opposition is,” said Ryan C. Crocker, a former United States ambassador to Iraq and Syria. “Frankly, we don’t have a clue.”

 That's right. No clue at all. From a White House Briefing by a "Senior Administration Official":

"ISIL has been I think a galvanizing threat around the Sunni partners in the region. They view it as an existential threat to them. Saudi Arabia has an extensive border with Syria."

These clueless folks can't even read a map. But we saw that before with those neocons who didn't know that there were Shia in Iraq before they invaded it. There is anyway not much difference between those and the "liberal interventionist" in Obama's administration. As Melkulangara Bhadrakumar notes:

Obama’s presidency has come full circle by reinventing the neocon dogmas it once professed to reject. On the pretext of fighting the IS, which the US and its allies created in the first instance, what is unfolding is a massive neocon project to remold the Muslim Middle East to suit the US’ geopolitical objectives. Call it by whatever name, it is an imperial war – albeit with a Nobel as commander-in-chief.

But the other side has its own ideas. Food for thoughts in three tweets by Peter Lee aka Chinahand:

Westerners mock pretensns of IS Caliphate bt it seems 2 strike chord among quite a few Muslims: effort to reestablish theocratic rule in 1/3
heartland of Umayyad/Abbasid caliphates, turn page on disastrus century of colonial/postcolonial rule, replace fragmented/corrupt states 2/3
w/ united Islamic power. West passivty validates the caliphate & its transnational strategy. May be PRC/Rus that try 2 draw the line. 3/3

Is ISIS an anti-Imperial movement?

Posted by b at 01:51 PM | Comments (174)

September 11, 2014

Ukraine: As Economic War Escalates, Fighting May Resume Soon

The ceasefire of Minsk between the Ukrainian coup-government and the federalists of east Ukraine was something both sides needed.

The Ukrainian army was on the verge of completely  loosing it. It was temporarily defeated and needed to rearm and reorganize. While the federalist insurgents were successful and probably able to continue their fight for a few days their forces were overstretched and needed to consolidate.

But many on the insurgent side did not like the ceasefire. It did not give them the federal autonomy they demanded. The neo-nazi "national-guard" battalions on the other side also criticized the ceasefire. They want the total destruction of their enemy and ethnic cleansing of all Russia-affine Ukrainians.

Russia had pressed for the ceasefire to avoid further sanctions. It was an offer to the "western" side to step back from the cliff of an economic war. Obama and NATO tried to sabotage the ceasefire through false claims of a Russian invasion and other propaganda. But the Ukrainian president had to ignore the pressure from Washington and Brussels or he would have lost another city, Mariupol, to the insurgents.

The main Russian reason to support the ceasefire, to hold back sanctions, has now vanished. Three days ago the EU, against the will of several of its members, decided on new sanctions on Russia:

The European Union adopted new sanctions against Moscow on Monday despite the leaders of Russia and Ukraine vowing to uphold a truce aimed at halting a devastating five-month war.
...
In Brussels, the EU formally approved fresh sanctions against Russia but said they would not come into force for a few more days, effectively delaying the measures to see if the current truce will hold.

The truce held and despite that facts and its earlier claims the EU today announced that the new sanctions will be implemented immediately:

The European Union has agreed to impose further sanctions on Russia on Friday over its role in the Ukraine crisis, diplomats say.

The move is aimed at maintaining pressure on Russia, the sources said.

Russia says it is preparing a response "commensurate with the economic losses" caused by the EU sanctions.

This is another catastrophic and escalating EU move with regards to Ukraine and Russia. This turns the conflict into an economic war between the EU and Russia in which no side can win. Only the United States and China will profit from it. 

Additonally Poland had the crazy idea of supplying gas which it purchases from Russia to Ukraine which is not willing or able to pay for direct deliveries from Russia. This is a breach of contract as the deliveries from Russia to Poland are not allowed to be resold to other Russian gas customers. Russia allegedly responded by lowering the volume of gas it supplies to Poland and Poland immediately folded and stopped the reverse gas flow to Ukraine:

Russia’s OAO Gazprom limited natural gas flows to Poland, preventing the European Union member state from supplying Ukraine via so-called reverse flows.

Polskie Gornictwo Naftowe i Gazownictwo SA, or PGNiG, got 20 to 24 percent less fuel than it ordered from Gazprom Export over the past two days and is compensating flows with alternative supply, the company said today in an e-mailed statement.

Poland halted gas supply to Ukraine at 3 p.m. Warsaw time today, according to Ukraine’s UkrTransGaz.

We can be not sure that this is the whole story though. Gazprom says it provides all the gas Poland ordered through its pipelines but hints that Ukraine, where those pipelines cross, may be the party which is taking the gas:

Russia has denied that its state-run gas giant Gazprom has been limiting flows to Poland.

"Reports by news agencies on the reduction of volumes of gas supplies by Gazprom to Poland's PGNiG are incorrect,” Itar-Tass reported Gazprom spokesman Sergey Kupriyanov as saying. “The same volume of gas as in previous days – 23 million cubic meters a day – is being supplied to Poland now."

Before Gazprom issued its statement, Uktransgaz’s Prokopiv blamed Russia for trying to “derail” the plan for Poland to supply Ukraine with “reverse” gas, while Ukraine refused to pay its debt to Gazprom and is currently cut off from Russian supplies, and accused Russia of limiting the supply of gas.
...
In August, Russia’s energy minister, Aleksandr Novak, warned that in the upcoming winter Ukraine may begin siphoning off Russian supplies intended for Europe if it fails to build up its reserves.

There is more conflicting news. The Ukrainian president Poroshenko claimed that most of the "Russian troops", which no one, including the OSCE observers in the area, has ever seen, have left Ukraine:

“Based on the latest information I have received from our intelligence services, 70 percent of the Russian troops have moved back across the border,” Poroshenko said. “This bolsters our hope that the peace initiatives enjoy good prospects.”

NATO, likely fearing that Poroshenko was again moving towards a peaceful solution, disputed the claim:

"The reported reduction of Russian troops from eastern Ukraine would be a good first step, but we have no information on this. The fact of the matter is there are still approximately 1,000 Russian troops in eastern Ukraine with substantial amounts of military equipment and approximately 20,000 troops on the Russian border with Ukraine," the NATO military officer said.

Push, push, push for war ...

But some parts of the "western" media are slowly waking up to the fact that not all is well with Ukraine and the "western" strategy. They note that Ukraine can not afford the IMF's 'Shock Therapy' and needs money without conditions which it will likely never pay back:

Absent this "bail-in" of foreign creditors, Ukraine will simply be taking on more debt that it lacks the capacity to service, risking a long-term compound debt spiral for the country and practically guaranteeing a wholesale default down the road -- and continuing political instability.

After months of ridiculing anyone who pointed to neo-nazis within Ukraine's regime and military forces as "Putin lover" reports about those neo-nazis now pop up in several "western" media.

Russia best reason to hold the insurgents in east Ukraine back from further fighting has vanished. The economic war is escalating no matter what Russia does or does not do. As the media have more time to look into the real issues in Ukraine the state of the sorry affair will become more clear and "western" public support for Ukraine will decline. This is a threat to "western" warmongering and to again escalate to fighting is the best method to suppress such news.

Hawks on both sides now have reason to restart the fighting. Expect the ceasefire to completely fail very soon.

Posted by b at 01:47 PM | Comments (259)

September 10, 2014

The Stampede Towards War On ISIS

The stampede towards waging war on ISIS and whoever else is quite weird. I see no real discussions of the sense of it all. How much will this cost? What are possible unintended consequences? How long will it take? How will we know when it is over?

No one seems to ask these questions. Instead this is considert to be journalism and reporting on teh issue:

Over a dinner of D’Anjou pear salad and Chilean sea bass, Obama, Vice President Biden and the outside experts engaged in a deep discussion of the options to combat the Islamic State, those who participated said.

"D’Anjou pear salad" - how interesting. But what are the options discussed, what are their up- and downsides and what are their costs? There is nothing about that in the Washington Post. The fourth estate is gone, nowhere to be found.

But what about the parliament. Isn't the United States supposed to be a democracy? What about those people who were voted into Congress? Cowards:

Democratic leaders in the Senate and Republican leaders in the House want to avoid a public vote to authorize force, fearing the unknown political consequences eight weeks before the midterm elections on Nov. 4.

“A lot of people would like to stay on the sideline and say, ‘Just bomb the place and tell us about it later,’ ” said Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia, who supports having an authorization vote. “It’s an election year. A lot of Democrats don’t know how it would play in their party, and Republicans don’t want to change anything. We like the path we’re on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him so long.

Obama would be crazy to let Congress get with this position. A war on ISIS will certainly have some very bad consequences, as any war does, and he will be solely blamed for all of them should Congress be allowed to dodge its responsibility.

Should Congress be forced to vote the real discussion, missing now, would have to take place and the vote in the end would likely be a resounding "No!"

These are the two groups. Which one would have, after an open public discussion, more support with the people?

some lawmakers in both parties will team with conservatives who do not want to support Mr. Obama on anything to oppose or limit any authorization of force, Mr. Kingston said. Hawks in the Republican Party will team with pro-Israel lawmakers and humanitarian interventionists in support.

The warmongers are of course trying to avoid the discussion and the vote and that is why they are pressing the stampede and hope that everyone else will panic with them and jump off the cliff.

The reporting today makes it look as if Obama has already taken the decision to, illegally by the way, bomb Syria. I sense a lot of hawkish spin in that and will not be surprised should Obama kick the problem over to Congress and demand a vote.

Posted by b at 11:29 AM | Comments (175)

September 09, 2014

Why Fight ISIS? And How Fight ISIS When There Are No Allies?

Why is there this artificial panic about ISIS in the United States? Why would a majority agree to air-attacks on ISIS, a "strategy" that is very likely to fail and that will certainly create more aggrieved people willing to fight the "west"?

The whole issue does not make sense. Yes, ISIS is dangerous as it is build on a brutal and strict ideology that can attract many, many followers. It was created in the aftermath of the U.S. attack on Iraq. The U.S. czar Bremer disbanded the Iraqi military creating a jobless army of several hundred thousand military men. Additionally his de-Baathification campaign send tenths of thousands of Sunni state employees and technocrats into poverty. The U.S. written Iraqi constitution enshrined sectarianism.

"Western" propaganda tales about the Syrian government "slaughtering Sunnis" - even when the majority of the government was and is Sunni - never made sense. But such claims, repeated over and over again together with empty words about "freedom" and "democracy" helped to mobilize an exceptional force of foreign fighters that has now joined ISIS.

ISIS is dangerous for the people living in Iraq and Syria. It is a threat to some of the governments in the area. But it is neither a threat to the U.S nor to Europe. Even if some ISIS influenced people would blow up something somewhere in Europe it would be jsut another minor event in a decades old series of various homegrown terror incidents. Why is there then a necessity to fight it?

And fight ISIS together with whom?

In Iraq the U.S. pressed for prime minister Maliki to go. The new prime minister Abadi is no less sectarian that Maliki. His cabinet now has 11 Sunni members while Maliki's had fifteen. The Kurds joined the new government only for a trial period of three month and the two most important ministries, interior and defense, will be, like under Maliki, in the hands of the prime minister himself. How then did this "regime change" move against Maliki change actually anything? Any Iraqi help against ISIS will be sectarian mass slaughter. Any foreign help to the Kurds or the Shia will be abused to create gains solely for that community.

The "moderate rebels" of the "Free Syrian Army" which the CIA is feeding with Saudi dollars and weapons are just a sham. They are criminals and/or religious fanatics and the difference between them and ISIS are tiny. In Lebanon the FSA is openly cooperating with ISIS:

“We are collaborating with the Islamic State and the Nusra Front by attacking the Syrian Army’s gatherings in ... Qalamoun,” said Bassel Idriss, the commander of an FSA-aligned rebel brigade.

Some FSA group seems to have kidnapped the journalist (and Mossad spy?) Steven Sotloff and sold him off to ISIS. The later beheading of Sotloff by ISIS was marketed by the Obama administration as one reason to bomb them. Why then not bomb the FSA who kidnapped him in the first place? Weapons delivered through the CIA to FSA rebels are now in the hands of ISIS fighters. Any thought that FSA groups, certainly thoroughly infiltrated by ISIS sympathizers, can somehow help in a campaign against ISIS is pure lunacy.

Then there is the lack of international cooperation in the area. The only two countries who have actually offered help are Iran and Syria. Jordan has asked not to be (officially) involved in the campaign for fear of internal revolt. Turkey, led by an Islamist, is giving comfort and logistic help to ISIS. It has not even labeled ISIS a terrorist group. Israel just helped the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra to take the Syrian border station on the Golan by shelling the Syrian government position that was trying to prevent that. The Kurds are busy defending their home turf in the mountains against ISIS incursions. They are neither capable nor willing to go on a military offense. The Saudi Arabia dictators fear ISIS because it is more truly Wahhabi then the sham Wahhabi Islamic State construct in Saudi Arabia. Ironically ISIS will likely soon target the Saudi state which ideology and money helped its birth in the first place. The Saudis will not help against ISIS, their spiritual kin, out of fear of such internal strife.

None of the local allies the U.S. wants to use against ISIS is willing or capable to help. The only three forces that offered and could (Syria, Iran, Hizbullah) help against ISIS are seen as hostile by the United States.

How then please can anyone in the U.S. think of a military campaign against ISIS? Without any local allies? With no boots, not even friendly foreign ones, on the ground?

The U.S. now wants some kind of UN Security Council resolution against ISIS. Russia and China should be very, very careful about this. The U.S. is likely to abuse any such resolution to justify a new attack on Syria.

Posted by b at 12:24 PM | Comments (105)

September 08, 2014

Open Thread 2014-21

News & views ...

Posted by b at 01:28 PM | Comments (218)

 
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