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Aleppo – Earthquake

OffGuardian | June 20, 2018

This documentary covers the destruction and chaos of besieged and occupied Aleppo, from the time conflict first came to the city in 2012, all the way through to final liberation in 2016. Showing the full picture of the violence, destroyed lives and carnage visited upon one of the oldest seats of civilisation in the world.

June 21, 2018 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, Video | , | 5 Comments

ISIL Blast Kills Dozens Celebrating Afghanistan Ceasefire

Al-Manar | June 17, 2018

The ISIL Takfiri group has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed at least 36 people and wounded 65 others in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar.

The group’s Amaq website said the attack on Saturday targeted “a gathering of Afghan forces” in Nangarhar, but gave no details.

According to Attaullah Khogyani, the provincial governor’s spokesman, the attack happened in Rodat district, some 25km from Jalalabad.

Civilians, security forces and Taliban members were among the casualties as people celebrated Eid Al-Fitr, marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The attack came as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced the government’s extension of a ceasefire with the Taliban, without giving a timeframe.

In a televised address to the nation, Ghani called for the Taliban to also extend the truce, which is due to expire on Sunday after both sides agreed to halt hostilities for Eid.

Ghani also said that in the spirit of Eid and the ceasefire, the attorney general’s office had released 46 Taliban prisoners.

The Taliban had announced a ceasefire for the first three days of Eid, which started on Friday, promising not to attack Afghan security forces for the first time since the 2001 US invasion.

That came after Ghani said that security forces would temporarily cease operations against the Taliban for eight days, starting last Tuesday – though he warned that operations against other fighters, including ISIL group, would continue.

Governors in Helmand, Kandahar and Zabul said both sides had adhered to the ceasefire.

June 17, 2018 Posted by | War Crimes | , | 2 Comments

An Iranian Perspective on the Battle for Syria

By Rick Sterling | Consortium News | May 17, 2018

West against East on the Syrian battle-field, in the newspapers and now on film: A new, full-length action movie, titled Damascus Time, gives an Iranian perspective on the battle against ISIS in Syria.

The movie comes from Iranian screenwriter and film director Ebrahim Hatamikia. Two award-winning Iranian actors, Hadi Hejazifar and Babak Hamidian, play father and son pilots trying to rescue civilians besieged and attacked by ISIS forces in eastern Syria. The pilots have come to help the townspeople escape in an aging Ilyushin cargo plane.

Syrian and Iraqi actors play Syrian civilians and ISIS terrorists hell bent on blowing up the plane or using it on a suicide mission against Damascus.

The movie portrays sensational scenes from real ISIS atrocities with a backdrop showing the Syrian desert and famous ruins of Palmyra. The city where civilians are surrounded and besieged is similar to the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor, which was surrounded and attacked by ISIS for years. During that time, the townspeople and soldiers depended on air-dropped food and ammunition to hold off the attackers, as shown in the movie.

Damascus Time’s jihadists display a human side, but they are wrapped in sectarianism, hate and violence.

Life’s complexities are demonstrated in the younger of the two Iranian pilots who has left his pregnant wife to be with his father. The mother-in-law of the young pilot bitterly criticizes him for leaving his wife. He tells her it will be his last trip.

While the story is fiction, what it portrays is all too real: Hundreds of thousands of real Syrians and Iraqis have been killed by the unleashing of the ISIS Frankenstein. Ironically, American leaders criticize Iran for being the “leading state sponsor of terrorism.” But in the Syrian war, Iran has been combatting it. Iran is more tolerant than most Westerners think too, as indeed Islam is. How many know for instance that Jews are represented in the Iranian parliament?

Western-backed Extremism

In reality, the U.S. and UK have allied for decades with extremists for short-term political gain. As documented in “Devil’s Game: How the U.S. Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam,” by Robert Dreyfuss, Britain and the U.S. promoted a violent and sectarian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood to undermine the nationalist and socialist policies of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt. Starting in 1979, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia promoted the founders of what became Al Qaeda to attack the socialist-leaning government of Afghanistan.

This policy has continued to the present. In the summer of 2012, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency outlined their strategy in a secret document : “THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING A DECLARED OR UNDECLARED SALAFIST PRINCIPALITY IN EASTERN SYRIA (HASAKA AND DER ZOR).”The U.S. looked favorably on what the document predicts will be the creation of the “Islamic State”: “THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPPORTING POWERS TO THE OPPOSITION WANT, IN ORDER TO ISOLATE THE SYRIAN REGIME…”.

Then, in a leaked audio conversation with Syrian opposition figures in September, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S., rather than seriously fight Islamic State in Syria, was ready to use the growing strength of the jihadists to pressure Assad to resign, just as outlined in the DIA document.

“We know that this was growing, we were watching, we saw that Daesh [a derisive name for Islamic State] was growing in strength, and we thought Assad was threatened,” Kerry said. “We thought however we could probably manage that Assad might then negotiate, but instead of negotiating he got Putin to support him.”

Russia began its military intervention in late September 2015 without the United States, with the Kremlin’s motives made abundantly clear by Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials. But such clear explanations are rarely reported clearly by Western corporate media, which instead peddles the line from officials and think tanks that Russia is trying to recover lost imperial glory in the Middle East.

Who sponsors terrorism?

But Kerry knew why Russia intervened. “The reason Russia came in is because ISIL [another acronym for Islamic State] was getting stronger, Daesh was threatening the possibility of going to Damascus, and that’s why Russia came in because they didn’t want a Daesh government and they supported Assad,” he said in the leaked discussion. Kerry’s comment suggests that the U.S. was willing to risk Islamic State and its jihadist allies gaining power in order to oust Assad.

The Biggest Sponsors

The true “state sponsor of terrorism” is not Iran; it is the West and their allies. Since Iran has been fighting ISIS and other extremists in Syria, it is appropriate that the first feature length movie depicting that battle against terrorism and ISIS comes from Iran.

Hundreds of Iranians have given their lives alongside their Syrian and Iraqi comrades. “Damascus Time” is not the product of Hollywood fantasy; it’s the product of actual human drama and conflict occurring in the Middle East today. “Damascus Time” is fictional but based on a real conflict with actual blood, atrocities, tragedies and martyrs.

The movie is currently being shown at cinemas throughout Iran. In recent weeks it was the second highest ranking movie. A trailer of the film can be viewed here. It should be available for viewing in the West in the near future, unless western sanctions and censorship are extended to culture.

Rick Sterling can be contacted at rsterling1@gmail.com

May 18, 2018 Posted by | Film Review | , , , | Leave a comment

‘Thousands of rotting corpses’ under ruins of Raqqa a public health crisis – Russian MoD

RT | April 13, 2018

The Russian Defense Ministry has criticized the Western-led coalition for creating a sanitation emergency in Raqqa after it took the Syrian city from Islamic State, but failed to organize a clean-up or rebuild.

“The epidemiological situation in Raqqa remains very grave. There are still thousands of corpses rotting underneath the debris,” said Russian Ministry of Defense spokesman Igor Konashenkov, during a press briefing in Moscow.

The official outlined the difference between the reconstruction efforts in cities taken back by government forces, such as Aleppo, where “schools, hospitals and markets have reopened” and those like Raqqa, which have largely been left to their own devices.

Over two-thirds of Raqqa, the city Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) once designated its unofficial capital, was destroyed during a four-month battle that ended in October 2017. The majority of the damage, according to Konashenkov,  was inflicted by US airstrikes on the city, which was previously home to around 300,000 people and is now under the loose control of Kurdish militias.

Members of the first UN Humanitarian Mission sent to the city in recent weeks wrote that they “were shocked by the level of destruction, which exceeded anything they had ever seen before.” Noting that “public services barely exist and there is no safe water or electricity,” the mission was alarmed by “widespread presence of explosive hazards, including unexploded ordnance, landmines and improvised explosive devices,” abandoned by Islamic State, and a cause of over 130 deaths between October 2017 and February 2018.

A location report from AP, published last week, said that only one bulldozer was available for excavating bodies, and that “the stench of death rises from crushed buildings” as insects swarm the streets. Locals also told the newspaper that violent crime goes unchecked, and that former IS militants are allowed to live freely among the population.

April 13, 2018 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , | 1 Comment

Britain and its Deadly Chemical Games

By Martin Berger – New Eastern Outlook – 10.04.2018

There’s no arguing that recently we’ve witnessed an abrupt increase of public interest in chemical weapons and the top-secret British laboratory Porton Down due to the alleged poisoning of Sergei Skripal in the so-called Salisbury incident.

Back in 2004, the Guardian would announce that this laboratory had conducted experiments on people using weaponized chemical agents, including highly volatile ones.

In this regard, it must be recalled that the United Kingdom began using chemical weapons almost immediately after the invention of this weapon. England would unleash deadly chemical attacks during the First World War, only to take advantage of the experience it accumulated of the process to utilize mustard gas against Arab insurgents in the 1920s. Moreover, historic documents show that London had an intention of using chemical agents against Germany’s densely populated cities during the Second World War.

The First World War was the time when the UK created the top-secret Porton Down chemical weapons laboratory. Over the course of its existence, more than 20,000 people were subjects of thousands of chemical and biological agents, as well as all sorts of drugs. According to various estimates, at least 8,000 people were exposed to the effect of mustard gas, and more than 3,000 people to sarin nerve gas poisoning. A renowned British historian Ulf Schmidt would explore the story of “survivors of Porton Down” in his book “Secret Science: A Century of Poison Warfare.”

By 1918, a quarter of all English shells would contain poisonous substances – phosgene, diphosgene, mustard, and chloropicrin, bringing the total amount of chemical weapons that British troops had at their disposal to 25,400 tons. In 1919, the British Royal Air Force in a bid to suppress the Bolsheviks in northern regions of Russia would unload diphenylchloroarsine on their heads, a highly toxic substance that causes severe suffocation.

In 1920, Winston Churchill ordered the suppression of Muslim uprisings in Iraq with the help of mustard gas. Some analysts still remember the phrase he used in a secret memorandum :

I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes…

As a consequence, Iraqi villages populated by “uncivilized” people that dared to revolt against the British Empire were wiped out with the use of mustard gas. Seventy years after these events, the survivors said that their villages were bombed three times a day. In addition to mustard gas, British troops would also deploy napalm against peaceful Iraqis along with new types of high-explosive and phosphorous bombs.

From 1930 to 1940, Britain tested the effect of mustard gas on Indian soldiers. Later these inhumane tests were dubbed “Rawalpindi experiments”, even though the area referred to in this name is now a part of the Punjab province in Pakistan. The purpose of these “experiments” was to study the effects and establish the dosages of mustard gas that could be used in combat operations. In the course of these “experiments” Indian soldiers were locked in gas chambers and then poisoned with mustard gas. After 10 years of continuous torture of Indian soldiers hundreds suffered from the consequence of severe exposure to mustard gas.

In 1942, the British developed the so-called Operation Vegetarian. They planned to scatter linseed cakes infected with anthrax spores over German pastures. The UK “baked” over 5 millions of such cakes for the attack. However, before launching it the UK decided to test their effectiveness on the Scottish Gruinard Island, the anthrax exposure was so “successful” that until 1990 any access to the island was strictly forbidden, but even today the consequences of this “experiment” haven’t been studied.

From 1939 to 1989, the United Kingdom was engaged in the development and research of new chemical warfare agents which became a pivotal part of the work done at the Porton Down chemical weapons laboratory. It was experts from this same laboratory that had subjected Indian soldiers to mustard gas exposure in the 1930s.

However, the tests of chemical agents on people within the confinements of Porton Down wasn’t something out of the ordinary. According to the El Pais newspaper, in 1963 this research center decided to test how vulnerable public infrastructure was to chemical and biological attacks. To do this, they unleashed an unknown bacteria in the London Underground, that was originally considered harmless, but later turned out to be capable of causing sepsis. However, no one was held responsible for such  inhumane “research”.

One can also recall the experiments conducted in 1963 that studied the effect of LSD drugs on British soldiers.

There’s been hundreds of former subjects of such “chemical experiments” that have demanded London to tell the truth about what is happening behind the closed doors of Porton Down, and to compensate for the harm inflicted by such “experiments”. In 2008, British authorities recognized individual facts of all sorts of harmful incidents and issued compensations to 359 of nearly 22,000 soldiers who were subjected to tests at Porton Down.

Recently, the British Medical Association (BMA) has released a report on the use of drugs as weapons, after examining the ongoing militarization of drugs. This has been a matter of grave public concern for decades now, but the highly technical nature of the above mentioned report has been kept out of the public eye.

It’s curious that according to various reports, the US Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency has been funding a number of military projects performed by the chemical weapons laboratory of Porton Down. Among them: experimental respiratory infection with Anthrax, Ebola virus, Marburg virus, Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus, Western equine encephalitis virus, and Eastern equine encephalitis virus. 

As for the latest reports about British chemical projects, it’s noteworthy that last year Syrian armed forces came across ISIS warehouses  filled with weaponized chemical substances produced by the US and UK. Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad would announce that the poisonous substances found at the said warehouses were produced by such American and British companies as Federal Laboratories, Cherming Defense UK and NonLethal Technologies. According to his reports, Syrian soldiers retrieved hand grenades and grenade launchers filled with CS and CN toxins. Such warehouses were located in the liberated city of Aleppo and the eastern suburb of Damascus.

But, in addition to the documented use of chemical weapons, Britain is well known for its false-flag provocations in this field. Among them is the so-called White Helmets organization in Syria. When Britain needs to blame Russia, Iran or the Syrian armed forces for the ongoing bombing of allegedly peaceful international radical terrorists, it orders them to destroy hospitals and schools, while using alleged chemical weapons in the process before carrying out “rescue operations” under direct supervision of British special services. Injured children are always on hand as props, with professional cameramen capturing the staged events. It is noteworthy that the founder of this group was James Le Mesurier, a British military intelligence officer with an impressive track record. He’s a graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, who saw deployment in some well-known military operations, including in Bosnia and Kosovo, as well as in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. In general, he’s been everywhere the West needed to stage a humanitarian catastrophe, with a subsequent “humanitarian intervention” leading to long sought after Western geopolitical objectives. He is still in the service of Her Majesty, to be more specific –  British military intelligence.

So, after a careful examination of the role chemical weapons play in the operations ordered by the UK, including false-flag attacks, everything becomes clear. Therefore, there can hardly be any doubts about the responsibility of British special services in the staging of the Salisbury incident which was designed to be yet another anti-Russian provocation, just as false-flag Syrian attacks have been.

It is unlikely that in this regard, Britain and its ruling political elite will be able to publicly refute the facts mentioned above in any way.

April 11, 2018 Posted by | Deception, False Flag Terrorism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , | Leave a comment

The UK Government – and Not Russia – is the Real Threat to UK Security

By Neil Clark | Sputnik | April 2, 2018

Here we go again. In the UK government’s latest 52 page ’National Security Capability Review’, guess who’s right there at the top of the threats Britain faces? Yes – those dastardly Russians!

‘The resurgence of state-based threats, intensifying wider state competition and the erosion of the rules-based international order, making it harder to build consensus and tackle global threats’, the report says. ‘The erosion of the rules-based international order’? Excuse me? Didn’t that happen when the UK and its NATO allies bombed Yugoslavia- without UNSC approval in 1999- and when the UK and its allies illegally invaded Iraq — again without UNSC approval- in 2003?

According to the report, those events just didn’t happen. Instead ‘Russian State Aggression’ is the thing we should all be worried about. The long litany of alleged Russian crimes include ‘supporting the Assad regime‘ and the ‘illegal annexation of Crimea’. Never mind that the so-called ‘Assad regime‘ requested Russian assistance in fighting ISIS [Daesh]/al-Qaeda linked jihadists whose co-ideologists have brought terror to the streets of Britain.

Nor that the predominately Russian people of Crimea voted overwhelmingly in a democratic referendum to return to Russia following a western-backed regime change operation in Ukraine in which virulently anti-Russian nationalists and neo-Nazis provided the cutting edge. Let’s not let little things like facts get in the way shall we?

Despite the British government providing no proof that Russia was responsible for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, or indeed that the Novichok nerve agent was definitely used, the report states boldly: The indiscriminate and reckless use of a military-grade nerve agent on British soil was an unlawful use of force by the Russian State.

The truth is that the official government narrative on Salisbury has more holes in it than a slab of Swiss cheese.

And that was before we were told last week that the oh-so-deadly nerve agent was probably on the Skripal’s front door- the door which police officers had been touching on a regular basis as they came in and out of the house.

As in 2003, with the UK government’s Iraqi WMD claims, a conspiracy theory is being presented as 100% established fact.

Everything is back to front. We’ve entered the ‘Through the Looking Glass’ world of Lewis Carroll- where we‘re being asked by Theresa May and co to believe six impossible things before breakfast.

Far from posing a threat to British security, Russian actions in the Middle East are actually making British citizens safer. It’s the UK government which has been putting our lives at risk- not the ‘evil Putin‘.

The UK‘s neo-conservative foreign policy — which has been followed by Labour and Conservative governments over the past 20-or so years, has involved targeting independently-minded secular states for violent regime change. None of these states threatened Britain or the British public. On the contrary, they were actually opposed to the extremist terror groups who DO pose a threat. By working to destabilise countries such as Iraq, Libya and Syria, the UK government has greatly boosted the cause of global terrorism.

Saddam Hussein may have been a dictator but he was never going to attack Britain. By toppling the Iraqi strongman, and dismantling the entire state apparatus, Britain facilitated the rise of the Islamic State [Daesh] — a group whose adherents have carried out attacks against UK citizens.

In Libya, Britain — and NATO acted as the air-force of radical jihadist groups — as part of their strategy to oust Muammar Gaddafi. Members of the so-called Libyan Islamic Fighting Group were able to travel freely between Britain and Libya. ‘The evidence points to the LIFG being seen by the UK as a proxy militia to promote its foreign policy objectives,’ writes Mark Curtis. ‘Both David Cameron, then Prime Minister, and Theresa May — who was Home Secretary in 2011 when Libyan radicals were encouraged to fight Qadafi — clearly have serious questions to answer.’

The first major ‘blowback’ to British citizens of the UK government‘s Libya policy came in 2015, when British tourists were killed by terrorist attacks in neighbouring Tunisia. One was killed in an attack on the Bardo National Museum in March 2015, while three months later, 30 British tourists lost their lives in the holiday resort of Port El Kantaoui. Among those killed was Denis Thwaites, a former professional footballer with Birmingham City. Tunisia had been a safe place for British tourists — before Cameron and co set about ‘regime-changing’ Libya and turning the country into a jihadists playground. It was reported that the Port El Kantaoui terrorist, Seifeddine Rezgui, had trained in an ISIS camp in ‘liberated’ Libya.

Then in May 2017, 22 people were blown up when leaving a pop concert in Manchester by Salman Abedi. The radicalised bomber had only returned from ‘liberated’ Libya a week earlier and is believed to have fought with his father with the LIFG, against Gaddafi — (and on the same side as NATO), six years earlier.

Again, remind me who is the biggest threat to UK security — the UK government — or Russia?

Having ticked off Libya from their ‘To Do’ list, the neocons in the UK government turned their attentions to Syria. Again, here was a country whose secular government posed no threat to the UK. President Bashar al-Assad, who trained as an eye doctor in London and whose wife Asma was born in England and brought up in Acton, could have been an ally, if the UK had been genuinely interested in fighting Islamist terrorism. But instead the UK supported hardcore Islamists, euphemistically referred to as ‘rebels‘ to try and bring down the Assad government.In June 2015, Seumas Milne reported how a trial in London of a man accused of terrorism in Syria had collapsed — when it emerged that British Intelligence had been backing the very same ‘rebel‘ groups the defendant was charged with supporting.

‘Clearly, the absurdity of sending someone to prison for doing what ministers and their security officials were up to themselves became too much,’ Milne noted. But it was not an isolated case.

The government is now talking about a new ‘Fusion Doctrine’ to ‘strengthen our collective approach to national security’. But here’s a better strategy. Let’s change our foreign policy. Let’s stop regime-change wars and destabilisation campaigns against countries which mean us no harm. Let’s stop supporting jihadist ‘rebels’ abroad in pursuance of neo-conservative objectives. Let’s start respecting international law. And let’s stop blaming Russia for problems which have been created at home.

April 3, 2018 Posted by | Militarism, Russophobia, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 1 Comment

US Splurges More Cash on Balkans Arms for Syria

Pentagon shopping spree for Balkans arms to equip Syrian rebels shows no sign of abating, after plans have emerged for US to buy a further 25,000 Kalashnikov-style rifles and 20 million bullets.

By Lawrence Marzouk, Ivan Angelovski, Juliana Ruhfus, Jelena Cosic | Balkan Insight | March 15, 2018

The Pentagon is planning to spend $162.5 million on weapons, ammunition and other equipment in 2019 to arm Syrian forces fighting Islamic State, ISIS, a recently released budget report reveals.

The amount comes on top of the $2.2 billion already designated by the US for arms to Syrian fighters [and other Pentagon-backed groups] from former Eastern Bloc countries – which BIRN revealed in investigation in September last year.

The operation of arming Syrian rebels already on the ground with former Eastern Bloc arms and ammunition, known as the Syria Train and Equip programme, has drawn almost entirely from the Balkans and Central Europe to date, a trend that is likely to continue throughout 2018 and 2019.

The new details of the spending have emerged as Al Jazeera English broadcasts “America’s Guns – Pipeline to Syria”, a joint investigation with Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

The probe found further evidence that arms were flowing from the Balkans to the Pentagon’s military projects in the Middle East.

BIRN tracked more than 20 Pentagon-commissioned flights leaving the island airport of Krk, Croatia, carrying unidentified military equipment to US bases, mostly in the Middle East.

The pattern of these airlifts being accompanied by inbound flights from the Azeri cargo firm Silk Way, first revealed by BIRN last October, has continued.

Serbia’s air aviation directorate told BIRN that a Silk Way flight from Baku, Azerbaijan, to Rijeka on October 5, 2017, which overflew their airspace, was given a permit for the “transportation of arms and dangerous goods”.

The Croatian authorities have refused to confirm or deny whether the flights are carrying weapons to Syria.

Questions have been raised about the ability of the US to keep track of its deliveries to anti-ISIS fighters, with evidence that Pentagon-purchased equipment is finding its way also to Islamist groups.

James Bevan, executive director of Conflict Armament Research, has documented more than 40,000 items found with ISIS in Syria, and found that many had originally been supplied by the Pentagon to its allies.

“The main issue is that if you supply weapons to non-state actors, you have very little control over what happens to those weapons,” Bevan explained, “particularly in a situation like Syria, where we have multiple competing groups.”

“That means, as somebody who is supplying weapons into that conflict, you really have no control over where they are going,” he added.

The Pentagon insists that US weapons deliveries to Syria are “incremental” and intended only for specific operations.

The new batch of weapons is needed, according to the latest Pentagon budget, to create a force capable of ensuring ”a safe and secure environment and capable of countering ISIS 2.0 and AQ [Al Qaeda].”

The equipment will be provided to 65,000 “Vetted Syrian Opposition” fighters – 30,000 of which will be tasked with offensive combat missions while the remaining 35,000 will become part of the new “Internal Security Forces”, whose job it will be to maintain security in “liberated areas”.

Currently, the Pentagon has around 30,000 vetted fighters on its books, mostly from the 50,000-strong Syrian Democratic Forces, SDF.

The US military said in January that half of the new “Internal Security Forces” – branded the “Border Security Force” at the time – would be made up of former members of the SDF.

The SDF is a coalition of different militia, widely considered to be Kurdish-led but, according to the Pentagon, split equally between Kurds and Arabs.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units, YPG, is one of its most important elements and played a critical role in the battle for Raqqa, the former “capital” of the Islamic State group.

The Turkish government, however, argues that it is an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which Ankara considers a terrorist group. It launched an offensive against the YPG in January, placing it on a collision course with its NATO allies.

The Pentagon has sought to assuage Turkey fears by insisting that the weapons’ pipeline to these vetted forces is “mission-specific” and that new recruits would be “comprised of local forces that are demographically representative”.

March 18, 2018 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , | 2 Comments

Analysts alarmed over Pentagon’s 60,000-strong Syrian rebel force

‘US aid ends up with extremists’

RT | March 7, 2018

Analysts have warned that US-supported groups in Syria often defect to extremists with their weapons. That’s after it was revealed the Pentagon plans to spend around $300 million to train and equip a 60,000-strong army in Syria.

Commenting on the Pentagon’s plans to build, train and equip a massive ‘Vetted Syrian Opposition’ to fight Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in Syria, a number of US-based experts told RT the move has nothing to do with combatting terrorism. Instead, US weapons and aid could easily land in the hands of Islamist extremists, as has often been seen in the past.

“In the past, some of the groups who were the recipient of US aid ended up either taking over or [being] defeated by some of the radical forces on the ground in Syria. Or some of them ended up joining the extremists and taking some of the weapons with them,” Edmund Ghareeb, a scholar at the American University in Washington, DC, told RT.

Another expert said an armed formation will help Washington tighten its grip over rebel-controlled parts of Syria, while stressing that the US’ “hostile military presence in Syria” has no legal basis. “They want to create… conditions in Syria where the country is still divided. The record of the US and the CIA’s operations in Syria is that the people they have supported all along have been extremists,” said Nicolas J.S. Davies, the author of ‘Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.’

He argued that the State Department and Pentagon “clearly want to push ahead with a plan to basically keep forces under their control in command of all Syrian territory east of the Euphrates river.”

While the US justifies its presence in Syria with claims it is fighting terrorists, the only area IS “has survived is the area that is under American and its allies’ control,” Daoud Khairallah, a professor of international law at Georgetown University, believes.“One would wonder whether they are getting assistance from Americans for their survivability, ” Khairallah told RT.

Pentagon pays monthly allowance to rebels, seeks to establish large force in Syria

Following the virtual defeat of IS terrorists in Syria, the US appears to be trying to restructure its military presence in the war-torn country. In February, a fiscal year 2019 budget document mulled creating a new army out of elements of the so-called Vetted Syrian Opposition (VSO). The forces are “projected to total approximately 60,000 to 65,000” by October 2018, according to a report titled ‘Justification for FY 2019 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)’.

The document explains that some 30,000 fighters will conduct “ongoing combat missions” against remaining pockets of IS in the Middle Euphrates River Valley (MERV), while another 35,000-strong contingent will form Internal Security Forces in liberated areas.

Creating the massive new military structure of rather questionable legality, roughly equivalent to the size of the Canadian armed forces, is an expensive endeavor. Besides seeking $250 million for border security requirements for areas outside of Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon is seeking some $300 million from US lawmakers to implement the creation of the new opposition bulwark machine that will be funded through the Syrian Train and Equip Program. Launched under the Obama administration in 2014, the program identified and trained selected Syrian opposition forces to fight IS.

The Pentagon plans to spend the bulk of the new funds on arming the forces. Nearly $50 million is allocated for buying AK-47s, PKM machine guns, as well as RPG-7 anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Mortar launchers and sniper rifles are also on the menu next to hand grenades, different types of vehicles and tons of ammunition.

Washington plans to pay a monthly allowance to its force, in addition to providing the new force with uniforms, hygiene kits and medical equipment. “[The Department of Defense] will transition to a stabilization effort that will focus on support to local Internal Security Forces, who will receive stipends for their efforts to secure liberated territory and prevent the re-emergence of ISIS or its affiliates,” the document reads. “Currently, 10,000 established partner force personnel are being paid stipends. The individual stipend payments range from $200 to $400 per month.”

While Washington maintains that its goal is to defeat IS, Moscow has repeatedly questioned US intentions, especially as the American presence in Syria is viewed as a violation of sovereignty.

The Russian military last month asserted that the true US goal is to capture “economic assets” in Syria, warning that America’s presence constitutes a dangerous threat to the political process and territorial integrity of the country.

March 7, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , , , | 1 Comment

US lights up pathway to Afghan peace

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | March 6, 2018

The Principal Assistant Secretary of State in the US state department’s Bureau of South & Central Asian Affairs, Alice Wells gave an extraordinary briefing in Washington on March 5 on the Trump administration’s outlook on the Afghan peace talks and reconciliation. The fact that the briefing was on record is itself of significance, underscoring the cautious optimism that the 4-way contacts and below-the-radar discussions between Washington, Islamabad, Kabul and the Afghan Taliban have gained traction.

Wells has touched on all aspects of the situation and they are almost entirely in consonance with my own assessments contained in the opinion piece, which appeared in The Tribune newspaper on March 5. (Joint gains from Afghan Peace, The Tribune, March 5, 2018 )

The most significant thing will be that Wells has forcefully, unequivocally – even euphorically – backed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s peace offer on February 27 to the Taliban, and has pledged that Washington intends to promote the process, no matter what it takes. Equally, Washington estimates that the Taliban has not yet “officially responded”, various media reports attributed to Taliban spokesmen notwithstanding. Wells pointedly urged the Taliban to accept the peace offer.

The Trump administration expects Pakistan too to put its weight behind the Taliban leadership to bring them to the negotiating table. The Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua arrived in Washington on March 5 for talks. Pakistan is confident of taking the process forward. Wells said,

  • We’re certainly not walking away from Pakistan. There will be very intensive dialogue through both our military and our civilian channels to discuss how we can work together. I mean, Pakistan has an important role to play in helping to stabilize Afghanistan.

Second, the Afghan peace process is not taking place in isolation but forms part of the broad framework of Pakistan-US strategic relationship.

From the Indian perspective, the salience of Well’s briefing lies in the US’ acknowledgement of Pakistan’s centrality in the Afghan peace process and, notably, Pakistan’s “legitimate concerns”, which Washington intends to address. This is how Wells framed the US policy:

  • Pakistan has a very important role to play in a peace process. We believe that Pakistan can certainly help to facilitate talks and to take actions that will put pressure on and encourage the Taliban to move forward towards a politically negotiated settlement. And our engagement with Pakistan is on how we can work together, on how we can address Pakistan’s legitimate concerns and Afghanistan’s stability through a negotiated process as well. Obviously, as Pakistani officials have underscored, they see a variety of issues, whether it’s border management or refugees or terrorism that emanates from ungoverned space in Afghanistan, as important issues, and we would agree that all of these need to be resolved during the course of a reconciliation process.

Two vectors that are going to shape the agenda of the forthcoming peace talks are: a) Washington accepts that Taliban has “legitimate grievances… (that) will have to be addressed at the negotiating table”, and, b) the US does not “preordain” any factions or elements within the Afghan Taliban movement to be “irreconcilable.” The latter means, plainly put, that it is entirely up to the Haqqani network to bid farewell to arms and join the peace talks and reconciliation. Wells chose her words carefully:

  • I think there are always going to be elements and factions that do not participate – the irreconcilable, so to speak. I think a political process defines who is reconcilable, who is prepared to come to the negotiating table, who is prepared to adhere to an agreement that is negotiated through a political process. And so rather than preordain who is irreconcilable, let the process determine that. But certainly, we would anticipate that there will continue to be elements, not just Taliban elements, that will pose a terrorism threat and will need to be taken care of by the Government of Afghanistan with the support of its partners.

Of course, it is unthinkable that the Haqqanis will defy the Pakistani diktat and continue to pose a terrorism threat. It is hugely significant that at one point, Wells went out of the way to openly acknowledge without caveats as to what is it that distinguishes the Taliban from the ISIS – simply put, Taliban is a legitimate Afghan entity:

  • I think all of us recognize that while the Taliban may be – represent an insurgency, they stand for and are Afghan nationalists of one type. ISIS is a nihilistic force that is bent on the very destruction of Afghanistan. And so there is a seriousness, an extreme seriousness of effort, in defeating ISIS.

Then, there is the tantalizing question of the fate of the US military bases in Afghanistan. Here, Wells parried, pleading evasively that it is entirely up to the future government in Kabul to decide whether continued US military presence is needed or not. But then, en passé, she added meaningfully, “No one is precluding any formula…” To my mind, there is going to be some sort of trade off.

Indeed, it may suit Pakistan too that there is continued US military presence in Afghanistan. For one thing, there is the searing experience of the Mujahideen takeover in Kabul in 1992 and the ensuing anarchy. Fundamentally, Pakistan has always sought that Taliban enjoyed US recognition, and, in the given situation, it is in Pakistan’s interests too that the US remains a stakeholder in the post-settlement era in Afghanistan. For, that would inevitably translate as US/NATO dependence on Pakistani cooperation, resuscitation of Pakistan’s role as a “non-NATO ally”, US interest in strengthening the strategic partnership with Pakistan, a US mediatory role in India-Pakistan issues, and, most importantly, the US as a guarantor that what has been shored up by way of an Afghan settlement doesn’t get undermined by other regional states that might harbor revisionist tendencies. The bottom line is that the Pakistani elite cannot think of a future for their country without an enduring strategic partnership with the US.

Unsurprisingly, Wells singled out Russia in almost adversarial terms. What emerges is that the US approach is to try to forge a regional consensus at the forthcoming Tashkent conference this month, which would pile pressure on Russia to fall in line. Evidently, Washington proposes to bypass Moscow and deal directly with the Central Asian capitals to create a regional consensus and support system for the peace process leading to a settlement.

Finally, Washington is still keeping its fingers crossed that Pakistan rises to its expectations, which is not surprising, given the backlog of distrust. Wells said,

  • We’ve not seen decisive and sustained changes yet in Pakistan’s behavior, but certainly we are continuing to engage with Pakistan over areas where we think they can play a helpful role in changing the calculus of the Taliban.

Once bitten, twice shy? At any rate, the Trump administration has no alternative but to take Pakistan at its word. Despite the bravado about the US military strategy making headway, Pentagon would know that the Taliban cannot be defeated through air strikes and this is a hopeless stalemate what needs to be addressed on the political and diplomatic track. Wells said,

  • We’re certainly not walking away from Pakistan. There will be very intensive dialogue through both our military and our civilian channels to discuss how we can work together. I mean, Pakistan has an important role to play in helping to stabilize Afghanistan.

All in all, Wells’ briefing augurs the opening of a new page in the chronicle of the Afghan war. It signifies that that the war is most likely drawing to a close and the ending is going to be like how all insurgencies in history rooted in native soil finally ended – via reconciliation with the insurgents. The full transcript of Wells’ briefing is here.

March 7, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Authoritarians Who Silence Syria Questions

By Jonathan Cook | CounterPunch | February 28, 2018

I am loath to draw more attention to the kind of idiocy that passes for informed comment nowadays from academics and mainstream journalists. Recently I lambasted Prof Richard Carver for his arguments against BDS that should have gained him an F for logic in any high school exam.

Now we have to endure Brian Whitaker, the Guardian’s former Middle East editor, using every ploy in the misdirection and circular logic playbook to discredit those who commit thought crimes on Syria, by raising questions both about what is really happening there and about whether we can trust the corporate media consensus banging the regime-change drum.

Whitaker’s arguments and assumptions may be preposterous but sadly, like Carver’s, they are to be found everywhere in the mainstream – they have become so commonplace through repetition that they have gained a kind of implicit credibility. So let’s unpack what Whitaker and his ilk are claiming.

Whitaker’s latest outburst is directed against the impudence of a handful of British academics, including experts in the study of propaganda, in setting up a panel – the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media – to “provide a source of reliable, informed and timely analysis for journalists, publics and policymakers” on Syria. The researchers include Tim Hayward of Edinburgh University and Piers Robinson of Sheffield University.

So what are Whitaker’s objections to this working group? Let’s run through them, with my interjections.

Whitaker: They dispute almost all mainstream narratives of the Syrian conflict, especially regarding the use of chemical weapons and the role of the White Helmets search-and-rescue organisation. They are critical of western governments, western media and various humanitarian groups but show little interest in applying critical judgment to Russia’s role in the conflict or to the controversial writings of several journalists who happen to share their views.

Western governments and western corporate media have promoted a common narrative on Syria. It has been difficult for outsiders to be sure of what is going on, given that Syria has long been a closed society, a trend only reinforced by the last seven years of a vicious civil-cum-proxy war, and the presence of brutal ISIS and al Qaeda militias.

Long before the current fighting, western governments and Israel expressed a strong interest in overthrowing the government of Bashar Assad. In fact, their desire to be rid of Assad dates to at least the start of the “war on terror” they launched after 9/11, as I documented in my book Israel and the Clash of Civilisations.

Very few corporate journalists have been on the ground in Syria. (Paradoxically, those who have are effectively embedded in areas dominated by al Qaeda-type groups, which western governments are supporting directly and through Gulf intermediaries.) Most of these journalists are relying on information provided by western governments, or from groups with strong, vested interests in Assad’s overthrow.

Should we take this media coverage on trust, as many of us did the lies promoted about Iraq and later Libya by the same western governments and corporate media? Or should we be far more wary this time, especially as those earlier regime-change operations spread more chaos, suffering and weapons across the Middle East, and fuelled a migrant crisis now empowering the far-right across much of Europe?

Whitaker and his ilk are saying we should not. Or more disingenuously, Whitaker is saying that the working group, rather than invest its energies in this supremely important research, should concentrate its limited resources on studying Russian propaganda on Syria. In other words, the researchers should duplicate the sterling efforts of Whitaker’s colleagues in daily attributing the superpowers of a James Bond villain to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Here’s a counter-proposal: how about we leave well-funded western governments and media corporations to impugn Putin at every turn and on every pretext, while we allow the working group to check whether there is a large (larger?) mote in the west’s eye?

Whitaker: The worrying part, though, especially in the light of their stated intention to seek ‘research funding’, is their claim to be engaging in ‘rigorous academic analysis’ of media reporting on Syria.

Is this really so worrying? Why not allow a handful of academics to seek funds to try to untangle the highly veiled aid – money and arms – that western governments have been pumping into a war tearing apart Syria? Why not encourage the working group to discern more clearly the largely covert ties between western security services and groups like the White Helmets “search-and-rescue service”? One would think supposedly adversarial journalists would be all in favour of efforts to dig up information about western involvement and collusion in Syria.

Whitaker: But while members of the group are generally very critical of mainstream media in the west, a handful of western journalists — all of them controversial figures — escape similar scrutiny. Instead, their work is lauded and recommended.

More of Whitaker’s circular logic.

Of course, the few independent journalists (independent of corporate interests) who are on the ground in Syria are “controversial” – they are cast as “controversial” by western governments and corporate journalists precisely because they question the consensual narrative of those same governments and journalists. Duh!

Further, these “controversial” journalists are not being “lauded”. Rather, their counter-narratives are being highlighted by those with open minds, like those in the working group. Without efforts to draw attention to these independent journalists’ work, their reporting would most likely disappear without trace – precisely the outcome, one senses, Whitaker and his friends would very much prefer.

It is not the critical thinkers on Syria who are demanding that only one side of the narrative is heard; it is western governments and supposedly “liberal” journalists like Whitaker and the Guardian’s George Monbiot. They think they can divine the truth through … the corporate media, which is promoting narratives either crafted in western capitals or derived from ties to groups like the White Helmets located in jihadist-controlled areas.

Again, why should the working group waste its finite energies scrutinising these independent journalists when they are being scrutinised – and vilified – non-stop by journalists like Whitaker and by big-budget newspapers like the Guardian ?

In any case, if official western narratives truly withstand the working group’s scrutiny, then the claims and findings of these independent journalists will be discredited in the process. These two opposed narratives cannot be equally true, after all.

Whitaker: The two favourites, though, are Eva Bartlett and Vanessa Beeley — ’independent’ journalists who are frequent contributors to the Russian propaganda channel, RT. Bartlett and Beeley also have an enthusiastic following on ‘alternative’ and conspiracy theory websites though elsewhere they are widely dismissed as propagandists.

“Widely dismissed” by … yes, that’s right, Whitaker’s friends in the corporate media! More circular logic. Independent journalists like Bartlett and Beeley are on RT because Whitaker’s chums at British propaganda outlets – like the Guardian and BBC – do not give, and have never given, them a hearing. The Guardian even denied them a right of reply after its US-based technology writer Olivia Solon (whose resume does not mention that she was ever in Syria) was awarded a prominent slot in the paper to smear them as Kremlin propagandists, without addressing their arguments or evidence.

Whitaker: [Bartlett and Beeley’s] activities are part of the overall media battle regarding Syria and any ‘rigorous academic analysis’ of the coverage should be scrutinising their work rather than promoting it unquestioningly.

There is no “media battle”. That’s like talking of a “war” between Israel, one of the most powerful armies in the world, and the lightly armed Palestinian resistance group Hamas – something the western corporate media do all the time, of course.

Instead there is an unchallenged western media narrative on Syria, one in favour of more war, and more suffering, until what seems like an unrealisable goal of overthrowing Assad is achieved. On the other side are small oases of scepticism and critical thinking, mostly on the margins of social media, Whitaker wants snuffed out.

The working group’s job is not to help him in that task. It is to test whether or how much of the official western narrative is rooted in truth.

Returning to his “concerns” about RT, Whitaker concludes that the station’s key goal:

is to cast doubt on rational but unwelcome explanations by advancing multiple alternative ‘theories’ — ideas that may be based on nothing more than speculation or green-ink articles on obscure websites.

But it precisely isn’t such “green-ink” articles that chip away at the credibility of an official western consensus. It is the transparently authoritarian instincts of a political and media elite – and of supposedly “liberal” journalists like Whitaker and Monbiot – to silence all debate, all doubt, all counter-evidence.

Because at heart he is an authoritarian courtier, Whitaker would like us to believe that only crackpots and conspiracy theorists promote these counter-narratives. He would prefer that, in the silence he hopes to impose, readers will never be exposed to the experts who raise doubts about the official western narrative on Syria.

That is, the same silence that was imposed 15 years ago, when his former newspaper the Guardian and the rest of the western corporate media ignored and dismissed United Nations weapons experts like Scott Ritter and Hans Blix. Their warnings that Iraq’s supposed WMD really were non-existent and were being used as a pretext to wage a disastrous colonial war went unheard.

Let’s not allow Whitaker and like-minded bully-boys once again to silence such critical voices.

February 28, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Russia, Pakistan edge closer in new cold war conditions

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | February 22, 2018

Afghanistan, no doubt, was what brought Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif to Moscow on a ‘working visit’ on February 20. This was Asif’s second meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the past 5-month period. They last met in New York on the sidelines of the UNGA session in September.

The Russian Ministry took pains to highlight Asif’s visit. A ‘working visit’ cuts out protocol frills and gets straight to transacting business. Yet, Moscow made an exception and issued a glowing ‘curtain-raiser’ to hail Asif’s arrival. There must have been strong reasons to do so. The regional backdrop is indeed tumultuous. The new Cold War is slouching toward the Hindu Kush and Central Asian steppes and Pakistan’s geography is regaining the criticality in strategic terms reminiscent of the 1980s.

The Russian statements have become highly critical of the US regional strategies in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Moscow has concluded that the US is determined to keep an open-ended military presence in the region. On the other hand, Russia is being kept at arm’s length from the Afghan problem. Instead, Washington is directly engaging the Central Asian states, bypassing Russia, including at the military level. Clearly, Washington is working hard to undermine Moscow’s leadership role in the region in the fight against terrorism and to challenge Russia’s notion of being the provider of security to the former Soviet republics neighboring Afghanistan.

Given the experience in Syria (where the US is covertly encouraging the ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates to make the going tough for the Russians and to create new facts on the ground that weaken Syria’s unity), Moscow is increasingly wary of US intentions vis-à-vis the ISIS in Afghanistan. To be sure, the growing presence of ISIS in the northern and eastern regions of Afghanistan facing the Central Asian region deeply worries Russia. Moscow has repeatedly hinted that the US could be facilitating the transfer of ISIS fighters from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan. But the Americans move on, ignoring the Russian barbs. The pattern in Syria is repeating.

Lavrov brought up the US-ISIS nexus in the discussions with Asif. The Russian side has floated the idea that the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization can be put to use “to develop practical measures to curtail ISIS influence in Afghanistan and prevent it from spreading to Central Asia.”

From Lavrov’s remarks following the talks with Asif, it appears that the SCO summit, which is scheduled to be held in Qingdao (China) in July, may make some moves/initiatives on the Afghan problem. Last year Russia injected a new lease of life into the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group. China will be hosting the next meeting of the Contact Group. The fact is that with the admission of Pakistan and India as full members, SCO now represents all key neighbors of Afghanistan.

At the media briefing after the talks with Asif, Lavrov outlined that Russia and Pakistan have common ground in regard of the Afghan situation. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry readout stated that the two ministers “agreed to closely coordinate in all Afghanistan-related processes for a regional solution of the Afghan conflict.”

Indeed, the articulations from both sides regarding the talks in Moscow on Tuesday suggest that Russia and Pakistan intend to work closely together to coordinate their approaches to the Afghan situation. Russia has promised to step up military support for Pakistan’s counter-terrorist operations. Significantly, as per a decision taken earlier, a new commission on military-technical cooperation between the two countries is being set up. Of course, this is happening at a time when the Pakistani military is preparing to face any cuts in US military aid.

To be sure, the talks in Moscow took place in the new cold war conditions. The critical difference today, compared to the eighties, would be that, as the Russian Foreign Ministry curtain-raiser put it,

  • “Today, Pakistan has become an important foreign policy partner of Russia. Both countries cooperate productively at international organisations, in particular at the UN and its agencies. Cooperation between Moscow and Islamabad is based on coinciding or similar positions on most issues facing the international community, including terrorism and religious extremism.”
  • “Opportunities for joint work expanded considerably after Pakistan joined the SCO as a fully-fledged member in June 2017…”
  • “The fight against terrorism is a key area of cooperation… The situation in Afghanistan arouses common concern. We are particularly concerned about the growing influence of the ISIS terrorist group in Afghanistan and its efforts to consolidate its positions in the country’s north and east. We advocate a regional approach towards resolving the situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. We expect participants in the Moscow format of consultations on the Afghan issue and the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group to work productively.”

The pronounced convergence over Afghanistan can be expected to create synergy for an all-round expansion and deepening of the Russia-Pakistan relationship. Lavrov gave an upbeat account of the relationship as it stands today. Russia’s interest lies in boosting Pakistan’s grit and capacity to withstand US pressure. Interestingly, Lavrov and Asif also discussed Syria where the US has lately switched to an offensive mode against Russia. (See my blog US-Russia rivalry surges in Syria.) Again, Asif voiced Pakistan’s opposition to the sanctions against Russia.

February 21, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

US-Russia rivalry surges in Syria

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | February 20, 2018

A major speech by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday at an international conference on the Middle East turned into the strongest Russian denunciation to date of the shift in the US policies under the Trump administration towards Syria, where the Pentagon now intends to keep a military presence indefinitely. (here and here)

The overall impression Lavrov conveyed is three-fold. One, in immediate terms, a spurt in fighting in Syria can be expected, as the US attempts to create new facts on the ground by using local proxies — Kurdish militia plus al-Qaeda affiliates and ISIS fighters — as well as to push back at Russia, Iran and the Syrian government.

Two, Russia concludes that the shift in the overall US strategy aims at balkanizing Syria. (Later on Monday, while speaking to the media in Moscow, Lavrov also drew attention to the presence of mercenaries and the Special Forces of France and Britain in northeastern Syria working in league with the US forces in implementing the American agenda to create zones of influence.)

Three, the conversation between Moscow and Washington regarding Syria is at a dead end. Lavrov specifically warned Washington that it is “playing with fire” in Syria, implying that the US strategy will run into resistance.

Two other features of the Moscow conference in Moscow are that, first, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif took part in it, and, second, the event also talked up a Russian mediatory role to calm down the tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Zarif told Lavrov at a meeting in Moscow on Monday that Tehran seeks Russia’s help in resolving the intra-regional rifts in the Muslim Middle East. Later, Zarif posted on his official Tweeter account: “With Russia’s sober strategic perspective and its growing influence in West Asia, it can play an instrumental role to help a paradigm shift in the Persian Gulf to one based on dialogue and inclusion.”

The conference was attended by non-official delegates from several Middle East countries, including Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, King Abdullah of Jordan had paid a ‘working visit’ to Moscow on February 15 and met Putin. On the previous day, Lavrov had spoken to his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Hassan Shoukry on phone. Yesterday, Putin also telephoned Turkish President Recep Erdogan. The focus was on Syria in all these exchanges.

The Russian strategy will be to persuade important regional states who have been the US’ key regional allies – Saudi Arabia and Jordan, in particular – not to rejoin the conflict in Syria by fueling a new round of fighting. If the approach succeeds, the US may find itself at a disadvantage in lacking regional support for pressing ahead with the military track.

However, although Russia’s ties with Saudi Arabia have appreciably strengthened in the recent years, Moscow’s capacity to mediate a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement remains to be seen. Syria continues to be a major source of rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. And, the irony is that, finally, the Trump administration is doing what Saudi Arabia had wanted the previous Obama administration to do by pushing upfront the ‘regime change’ agenda in Syria through coercive methods.

In the Saudi perception, Russia suffered a series of setbacks in Syria recently. Summing up the Syrian situation, Ghassan Charbel, editor-in-chief of the influential Saudi establishment daily Asharq Al-Awsat wrote on Monday, “ Never before have all these flags, interests, dangers, armies, militias, internal divisions and regional and international clashes come together on its (Syria’s) territories. From the South to Idlib to Hmeimem to Afrin, Syria is like a powder keg. It is at the heart of a complex and vast geo-strategic conflict that is impossible to resolve with force and where losses and rewards will be difficult to predict… The regional and international circumstances do not appear ripe for… talks to happen. The Syrian tragedy is open to the most dangerous possibilities.”

The Saudi inclination will be to wait and watch which way the winds are blowing. On the other hand, the war in Yemen remains Saudi Arabia’s number one priority today and Riyadh seeks a Russian role in ending the war in Yemen by leveraging its influence with Iran.

February 20, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment