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Scramble for Syria opens up disturbing scenarios

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

The US State Department issued a strong statement on March 19 following the fall of Afrin, the Kurdish city in northwestern Syria to the Turkish forces. The statement is highly critical of Turkey’s military operation in Afrin. It expresses concern over the humanitarian situation and of looting in Afrin by the occupation forces. Importantly, it alleges once again that the Turkish operation “has distracted from the ‘Defeat ISIS’ campaign and provided opportunity for ISIS to begin reconstituting in some areas. This is a serious and growing concern.”

The statement can be seen as an expression of sympathy toward the Kurds who suffered a crushing defeat in Afrin. This is the least that Washington could do to salvage its reputation among the Kurds. The US claims that it “does not operate in the area of northwest Syria, where Afrin is located. We remain committed to our NATO ally Turkey, to include their legitimate security concerns.” But Turkish President Recep Erdogan has contradicted the US stance of non-involvement in Afrin. He now alleges that the US tried to “deceive” Turkey. Erdogan said today in Ankara at a meeting of the ruling party,

  • “If we are strategic partners, you (US) will have to respect us and move along with us. You tried to deceive us. You sent 5,000 trucks of weapons there. You sent more than 2,000 trucks of ammunition there. We wanted weapons from you to buy with our money, but you did not give any to us. What kind of a strategic partnership or solidarity is this?”
  • “The U.S. spokesperson makes a comment and says, ‘We are concerned about the situation in Afrin.’ Where were you when we transmitted our concerns to you? Where were you when we said ‘let’s clean the terrorist organization from there?”

It is apparent that Washington is indulging in doublespeak. At any rate, Washington’s priority at the moment will be to pile pressure on Turkey over the chaotic situation in Afrin (which was captured by Turkish forces on March 18) and, in reality, to somehow dissuade Erdogan from extending the military operation to the northeastern region (east of Afrin), which are under the control of the Kurdish militia and the US forces.

Erdogan is keeping the Americans on tenterhooks as regards his next move. He asserted on Monday that Turkish troops would indeed press eastward, targeting territory where US forces are stationed, all the way into Iraq’s Sinjar Mountains. There is no reason to disbelieve him. The point is, there is massive popular support in Turkey for Erdogan’s muscular policy towards the Kurds – and for standing up to the US. In political terms, Erdogan can hope to exploit the wave of nationalism sweeping Turkey. The parliamentary and presidential elections are due next year in Turkey.

Unsurprisingly, Moscow and Tehran have kept quiet and left the field to Turkey and the US to throw brickbats at each other. They have reason to be pleased that the US is unable to protect the Kurdish militia, its key ally in Syria, from the Turkish assault. Besides, they are able to press ahead with their own operations against the extremist forces (that used to be previously aligned with the US and Turkey) in Ghouta in eastern Damascus and Idlib province in the extreme northwest.

Evidently, from the Russian and Iranian perspective, Erdogan is doing a magnificent job by undermining the US strategy in Syria to maintain an open-ended military presence. The Kurdish militia who are having an existential fight on their hands with the Turkish military are not going to be in a position to be the US’ proxies for very long.

On the other hand, Russia and Iran also remain wary of Turkey’s intentions, especially a Turkish attempt to create a ‘buffer zone’ in northern Syria. As it is, the US has carved out a huge swathe of land in northern Syria east of Euphrates, which comprises some of Syria’s best agricultural lands and water resources and over half of Syria’s entire oil and gas fields. (A trilateral Turkish-Russian-Iranian presidential summit is due to take place in Istanbul on April 4.)

Another complicating factor is that Russia has its own interests to pursue vis-à-vis Turkey and the Kurds. Then, there is also the overarching US-Russia competition to placate Turkey. All in all, the Syrian war is not ending as many observers had earlier envisaged, but is actually mutating into new forms. Read an insightful interview, here, with a leading expert on Syria, Professor Joshua Landis, Director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

March 20, 2018 Posted by | Deception | , , , , | 1 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

US to raise Kurdish force in Syria ignoring Turkey’s warnings

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | February 13, 2018

The Turkish President Recep Erdogan scaled up his rhetoric against Washington dramatically as the countdown begins for the visit by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Ankara on February 15. Addressing the Turkish parliament on Tuesday, Erdogan hit hard that the US should expect an “Ottoman slap” if it continued to align with the Syrian Kurds. “They (Americans) have mistaken Turkey for the kind of place where they can come and go as they please without giving an account. They will soon see that it’s not such a place,” Erdogan warned.

Turkey is infuriated by reports that the Pentagon has requested $1.4 billion for the 2019 fiscal year to train and equip Kurds in Iraq and Syria. A key aspect of the long-term strategy is the building up of local Kurdish forces. Tillerson confirmed this in a statement in Washington on Tuesday when he said, “The United States will maintain a conditions-based and ISIS-focused military presence in Syria. As part of that presence, we will continue to train local security forces in Syria.”

Erdoğan warned today that Washington’s decision to continue funding the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia will “affect Turkey’s decisions.” He insisted that although initial aid figures are estimated at $550 million, “information obtained by Ankara” indicated that this financial support “could increase to $3 billion.”

Clearly, the Trump administration is ignoring Turkey’s warnings and is proceeding to raise a well-trained Kurdish force in northern Syria equipped with American weapons. This is also the Russian assessment. At a press conference today, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov did some plain-speaking on what the US project in Syria looks like:

  • In general, we have a suspicion…. that the United States wants to stay there (Syria) for a long time, if not forever… The Americans, in my opinion… are trying to act by dangerous unilateral steps. And by the way, these steps look more and more like part of a line for creating a certain quasi-state on a large part of the Syrian territory — on the eastern bank of the Euphrates and up to the Iraqi border.

Turkey is adamant that it will resist any such US project to carve out a Kurdish state along its border with Syria. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Tuesday that Turkey will eliminate all threats along its borders “wherever they come from. Those who want to found a state along our borders will be disappointed.” Yildirim called on the U.S. “to cut its support to those murderers (Kurdish militia) and stop giving them weapons. This is a dark, dead-end-street. You (US) still have time to correct your mistake.”

It may appear that things are moving toward a Turkey-US confrontation. However, the US is playing for time by engaging Turkey. The National Security Advisor HR McMaster visited Ankara in the weekend and the two defence ministers also met in Brussels. Tillerson is arriving in Ankara on Thursday. Washington estimates that there is still time available to negotiate a deal pending the completion of Turkey’s current military operations in Afrin.

The Kurds in Afrin are fiercely resisting the Turkish forces. The Turkish Army General Staff announced on Monday that 31 Turkish army men have been killed and 143 more wounded in the offensive against the Kurds in Afrin so far. According to the Russian media, Kurdish fighters in Afrin have received new weapons and may launch counter-attacks inside Turkey. (An advanced Turkish drone was shot down in Afrin today.) Kurds from Iraq are also joining the fighting in Afrin.

The best American hope will be that the Turkish forces get bogged down in Afrin for quite a while. And, indeed, the US calculates that if the Turkish forces take a heavy toll in Afrin and the going gets tough, Erdogan may not even have the appetite to escalate the operations to the other regions in northern Syria west of the Euphrates that are presently under the control of US-backed Syrian Kurdish militia.

However, it is a risky gambit because it is not only Turkey but Russia and Iran also who want the US military presence in Syria to end. During a congressional testimony in Washington, DC, on February 6, the former US ambassador to Iraq and Syria Robert Ford explicitly warned that it is a matter of time before the US personnel in Syria get targeted. Ambassador Ford’s testimony is here.

February 13, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , , , , | 2 Comments

US blinks under Turkish pressure in Syria

By M.K. Bhadrakumar | Asia Times | January 28, 2018

The Turkish President Recep Erdogan gave a stark warning to the Trump administration on Friday by stating his intention to order an assault on the northern Syrian town of Manbij, roughly 40 km from the Turkish border and 100 km to the east of Afrin, where US forces are operating alongside Kurdish militia.

He said, “Operation Olive Branch will continue until it reaches its goals. We will rid Manbij of terrorists (read Kurds) … Our battles will continue until no terrorist is left right up to our (910-km) border with Iraq.”

The fact of the matter is that unlike Afrin, which is predominantly Kurdish, the ethnic composition of Manbij is diverse with Arabs, Circassians and Chechens forming majority. A Turkish assault on Manbij will expose the fundamental contradiction in the US strategy to align with Kurds in the multi-ethnic northern Syrian region to the east of the Euphrates, where Arabs dominate and tribal solidarity remains strong.

The Kurds consider this region as “historically Kurdish,” based on notions from the Middle Ages and Salah al-Din, but the ground reality is that they can never integrate such a large Arab population. Suffice to say, undermining the Kurdish gains in Manbij is not going to be difficult for Turkey and US forces are sure to get caught in the crossfire, since without direct US intervention, Kurds will be at a disadvantage.

Occupation of Afrin is not the Turkish objective. Turkey’s aim is to scatter the Kurds’ Rojava dream, which is based on a contiguous homeland across northern Syria up to the East Mediterranean. The western analysts’ prognosis of a “Turkish quagmire” in Afrin is far-fetched. Turkey understands that it is futile to conquer Afrin, a region of rugged mountains with hostile Kurdish population.

The Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu hinted at this when he said on Friday, “After clearing them (Kurds), we will hand the region over to its real owners; namely, we will hand it over to Syrians.” Cavusoglu meant the Arab population. Interestingly, Kurds in Afrin have sent feelers to Damascus to come and reclaim the lost territory.

Much depends on the Russian game plan. Russia is in a unique position of being on friendly terms with Turkey, Afrin Kurds and Damascus. Moscow may prefer that the Turks complete their mission in Afrin and move on to Manbij. That gives respite to the Syrian government forces to gain control of Idlib.

Turkey is signaling that it will risk confrontation with the US, if it must. Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag (who also officiates as the government spokesman) warned the Pentagon, “Those who support the terrorist organization will become a target in this battle. The United States needs to review its soldiers and elements giving support to terrorists on the ground in such a way as to avoid a confrontation with Turkey.”

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim also spoke on these lines: “A big country like the US has a huge army and potential, does it need terrorist organizations (for its operations in the region)? … This is clear hostility. Turkey will not allow this no matter who is behind it, regardless of its power and whatever the name it may have.”

To be sure, Turkey is relentlessly piling pressure and is not giving any wriggle room to Washington. The Trump administration is compelled to compromise. The National Security Advisor HR McMaster telephoned the Turkish presidential aide Ibrahim Kalin on Friday late evening to discuss Turkey’s “legitimate interests” and to convey that the US will not provide weapons to the Syrian Kurds anymore.

McMaster’s overture followed a telephone conversation on Friday between Erdogan and British Prime Minister Theresa May. Britain has a role to play in the Kurdish problem, historically. Besides, the controversial speech on Syria by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at Stanford University ten days ago, which was the tipping point, had a big British input – where he proclaimed that military presence in Syria would continue “indefinitely” and that Pentagon planned to train a 30,000-strong Kurdish security force on the Turkish border.

In immediate terms, the US and Britain’s priority is to disrupt Russia’s Syria talks in Sochi on January 29-30, which is expected to discuss a constitution for Syria. The West sees Turkey’s role as the last countervailing force to a Russian-imposed peace in Syria.

However, any compromise formula at this point may be too little, too late for Erdogan at this stage. For one thing, the ground situation has acquired a dynamic of its own. The Kurds are firing rockets at Turkey with impunity. The point is, PKK is not under US command. Erdogan rejected McMaster’s assurance and alleged that US arms are still “flowing” to the Kuridsh militia.

Foreign Minister Cavusoglu point blank demanded today that the US forces should withdraw from Manbij “immediately.” Complying with the Turkish demand will be very humiliating for the Pentagon. But what is the alternative?

The signs are that Erdogan has a deal already with the Kremlin. Russia is tacitly acceding to the Turkish drive to weaken Kurds. It’s a “win-win” situation for Moscow and Ankara. From the Russian viewpoint, the US strategy in Syria will reach a cul-de-sac if the Turks degrade its Kurdish allies. It must be factored in that Moscow suspects that the US masterminded the attack attack on the Russian base at Hmeimim on January 5. President Putin hinted at this and went on to point a finger at a calculated ploy to wreck Russian-Turkish relations.

As for Turkey, given the trust deficit in their relations after the failed coup against Erdogan in 2015 and the opaqueness of American intentions in Syria and Iraq, Turkey is barely tolerating the US military-intelligence presence along its sensitive southern borders. But Turkey cannot and will not make an outright demand for a US pullout from Syria, being NATO allies and all that.

On the other hand, if the US is neither able to protect its Kurdish allies nor to create new facts on the ground in northern Syria (to counter the expanding Iranian presence), and also lacks the capacity to leverage the policies of regional states, what is the logic of maintaining isolated pockets of military presence in northeastern Syria “indefinitely?”

Thus, by degrading the Kurdish militia and effectively destroying their utility to the US, Erdogan is killing two birds with one stone. Putin must be sensing that, too. Meanwhile, Russia is prevailing upon Tehran and Damascus to get on with life, leaving it to Erdogan to sort out the fate of the US presence in Syria.

January 29, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | 2 Comments

US creates rift among Russia, Turkey and Iran

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | January 15, 2018

Five days after Turkey summoned the US charge d’affaires in Ankara to convey its concerns over the US’ continuing support for the Kurdish militia in Syria with weapons and training, President Recep Erdogan threatened on January 15 that it is resolute about thwarting the attempt by Washington to consolidate the emergence of a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria under American protection.

Erdogan said that the Turkish military has completed its preparation to move against the Kurdish militia in their canton of Afrin, in northwestern Syria, and Manbij, in northern Syria. He added, “The operation may start any time. Operations into other regions will come after,” noting that the Turkish army was already hitting the Kurdish positions. Erdogan said, “America has acknowledged it is in the process of creating a terror army on our border. What we have to do is nip this terror army in the bud.”

On January 14, the Turkish Foreign Ministry also issued a statement saying Turkey had reiterated on numerous occasions that it was “wrong and objectionable” to cooperate with the Syrian Kurdish militia. “On the other hand, the establishment of the so-called ‘Syria Border Protection Force’ (by the US) was not consulted with Turkey, which is a member of the (US-led anti-terrorist) coalition,” the statement said. It was also unknown which coalition members approved this decision, the ministry said. “To attribute such a unilateral step to the whole coalition is an extremely wrong move that could harm the fight against Daesh,” it added.

On another plane, what emerges is that the US ploy to create misunderstanding between Moscow and Ankara by stage-managing the drone strike recently at the Russian bases in Syria from Idlib province close to the Turkish border has flopped. Erdogan telephoned President Vladimir Putin last week to talk things over and the latter since then openly endorsed the assessment by the Defence Ministry in Moscow that the drone technology used in the attack was far too sophisticated to be handled by terrorist groups without the support of an advanced country. In effect, Moscow hinted at an American conspiracy.

At a press conference in Moscow today, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also hit hard on the US’ gameplan in northern Syria. For the first time, he made the specific allegation that Washington is working on the “separation of a huge territory along the borders with Turkey and Iraq” from the rest of Syria. Analysts have estimated that the area works out to a quarter of Syrian territory. Lavrov hinted that Moscow, Tehran and Ankara are in consultation on the issue. As he put it, “We, like our Turkish and Iranian partners, like many others, I am sure, are expecting detailed explanations from the US.”

Meanwhile, Tehran has also voiced concern over the American (and Turkish) moves in northern Syria. The Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Ali Shamkhani warned of the dangers posed to the regional states by the occupation of Syria. “Any political or military action to target a part of the Syrian territories which are under the terrorist groups’ control or occupation of the Syrian lands by foreign forces runs counter to people’s interests, is considered as a threat to the regional countries and doomed to failure,” Shamkhani warned.

However, a military confrontation between Turkey and the US is unlikely to happen. Erdogan is good at brinkmanship. Nonetheless, his future course of action will bear watching. The point is, Turkey also has its own agenda in northern Syria and may well use the presence of Kurdish militia forces along its border regions as a pretext for staging new military operations in northern Syria. Equally, Turkey still has an ambivalent relationship with some of the extremist groups operating in Idlib.

All in all a complicated matrix is developing in northern Syria where Russia, Turkey and Iran have convergence as regards their opposition to the US attempt to bolster the Syrian Kurds’ control of vast territories in the region. But, having said that, Russia and Iran (and Syrian government) also disapprove of any independent Turkish military action in northern Syria. On the other hand, they also harbor misgivings about Turkey’s continuing links with some terrorist groups present in Idlib (which also have had US backing.)

The Syrian government’s best hope – as indeed Russia and Iran’s – would lie in weaning away the mainstream Kurdish groups from the orbit of US influence to engage them constructively as participants in a peace process. But Turkey brands the Kurdish groups as terrorists and threatens to attack them. Damascus has repeatedly questioned the Turkish moves with regard to Afrin.

In such complicated circumstances, it remains to be seen how the proposed Syrian Congress of National Dialogue could be held in Sochi, as planned, in end-January. The expectation was that the congress would pave the way for the drafting of a new constitution for Syria. To be sure, these contradictions will be exploited by the US to create rifts between Turkey and Russia (and Iran.) The US design is to keep Syria weak and divided for a foreseeable future so that its occupation of a big swathe of land in the strategic northern regions bordering Turkey and Iraq goes unchallenged and the Russian plans to push ahead a settlement in Syria somehow within this year get thwarted.

The good part is that the recent disturbances in Iran do not seem to have affected Tehran’s resolve to help Syrian government forces regain the lost territories. In fact, Shamkhani made his remarks (cited above) during a meeting with the Syrian Parliament Speaker Hammoudeh Sabbagh in Tehran on Monday. (FARS )

January 15, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , | 1 Comment

Turkey’s Erdogan won’t capitulate

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | December 2, 2017

As the countdown begins for the trial in a Manhattan federal court next week of the Turkish-Iranian millionaire gold trader Reza Zarrab over violations of US sanctions against Iran, Turkey is hardening its stance. President Recep Erdogan has said that Turkey cannot be prosecuted in a fake court. (See my article in Asia Times, Gold dealer’s testimony puts Erdogan on shaky ground.)

Importantly, on Friday, the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office issued an arrest warrant for a former top CIA official Graham Fuller alleging his involvement in the failed coup attempt in Turkey in July last year. The Turkish security is apparently in possession of information that Fuller was in the country during the coup attempt on July 15 and abruptly left after the coup failed. Fuller participated in a secret meeting of the coup plotters on July 15-16, which was held in the Buyukada Island in the Sea of Marmara off Istanbul.

For the first time, Ankara is inches away from hinting that last year’s was a CIA-sponsored coup attempt, aimed at overthrowing Erdogan’s government. The government has alleged previously that the coup plotters intended to “eliminate” Erdogan.

This is an extremely serious development insofar as Turkey is, in effect, alleging that the spy agency of a major NATO ally, which swears by Article 5 of the alliance’s charter on collective security, actually conspired to overthrow its established government which enjoyed a democratic mandate.

From all indications, Turkish intelligence would have collected a lot of evidence regarding the coup before making the move to seek Fuller’s arrest. At least some of the evidence would also have been provided by friendly countries such as Russia and Iran. We will never know whether the Russian and Iranian intelligence are in possession of hard information pointing at CIA involvement in the coup attempt in Turkey, but the possibility cannot be ruled out. The Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif was constantly interacting telephonically with his Turkish counterpart through the fateful night of the coup attempt when things were on razor’s edge.

Ankara announced on Friday that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will be attending the NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Brussels on December 5-6. Cavusoglu is sure to bump into US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. One can only wish to be a fly on the wall at the NATO Hqs. Indeed, if the US plan is to leverage the Zarrab case to pressure Turkey to change course in its foreign policies and revert to its cold-war era role as the West’s junior partner in the region, it may boomarang. Turkey may be preparing to go on the offensive.

Make no mistake, Turkey will follow up on the arrest warrant for Fuller. Fuller was a mentor of the controversial Islamist preacher Fetullah Gulen. According to Turkish reports, Fuller had recommended Gulen’s application for the Green Card, which in turn enabled the latter to live in exile in the US for almost two decades after he fled Turkey in 1998. Turkish intelligence keeps a close tab on Gulen’s activities Ankara has often hinted that Gulen is actively in contact with the US establishment.

If Erdogan wants to hit the Americans hard, he won’t have to look beyond next-door Syria. Erdogan’s key advisor Ibrahim Kalin has written in the pro-government Sabah newspaper today that with the defeat of ISIS, the US has no justification to support the Syrian Kurds. To quote Kalin,

  • This question was discussed during a recent phone call between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump on Nov. 24. Trump’s response was affirmative, adding that the huge military support the U.S. is providing to the YPG should have ended before. His statement was contradicted only a few days later by the Pentagon.

There is an implicit warning here that Turkey is drawing a red line. Kalin disclosed in the article that Pentagon is using the pictures of Kurdish women fighters to “romanticize” the US-Kurdish alliance. Kalin wrote, “[It is] a useful instrument to sell propaganda to Western audiences, but an affront to the female body and personality. Among the many ironies of this policy, this one is stunning: America’s best ally in Syria is a Marxist-Leninist terrorist organization that fights against Turkey, a key U.S. ally, and seeks autonomy and eventual independence in Syria.”

The Turkish intelligence has got through to the chief spokesman of the US-backed Kuridsh alliance (known as the Syrian Democratic Front) Talal Silo who has “defected” to Turkey recently. In an interview with the Anadolu news agency today, Silo has spilt the beans, exposing the Pentagon’s nefarious activities in Syria that threaten Turkish national security interests. The transcript of the interview is here.

December 2, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | 2 Comments

There’s light at the end of Syrian tunnel

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | November 24, 2017

For the 330,000 dead souls of Syria it may be small comfort that the bloody conflict in their homeland is drawing to a close, finally, but it is brilliant news nonetheless.

Although there has been a struggle against terrorism on Syrian soil, the struggle was quintessentially geopolitical. The decades-long US agenda – at least, dating back to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 – was at the core of it. That agenda, which sucked in regional and extra-regional powers, has conclusively failed. Therefore, it is the regional settlement that becomes crucial at this stage.

Peacemaking makes strange bedfellows because protagonists are jockeying for position to secure their interests. The trilateral summit in Sochi between Russia, Iran and Turkey on Wednesday can be regarded as a celebratory event insofar as Russia and Iran have not only ‘won’ the Syrian war but also cemented the ‘defection’ of Turkey to their side. The locus of Middle East politics itself has shifted. This is one thing.

Equally, Russian diplomacy has effectively ‘neutralized’ Saudi Arabia and encouraged that country to ‘sanitize’ the Syrian opposition groups who are under its influence and nudge them toward swallowing the bitter pill and drop their persistent pre-condition that President Bashar al-Assad cannot be part of any solution to the Syrian problem.

With Qatar and Jordan having already moved to a ‘neutral position’ on their own accord in the recent months – each for its own reasons of self-interest – and with Egypt all along being fully behind the Russian leadership, there is no regional state that is any longer in the business of prolonging the fratricidal war by putting up proxy groups.

Except, of course, Israel. But then, Israel is a small country and non-Muslim and lacks the clout to influence the prevailing winds or to create new facts on the ground in Syria. The Russian President Vladimir Putin who spoke to all key regional leaders and (US President Donald Trump) on Tuesday night in a flurry of ‘telephone diplomacy’ pointedly ignored Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu who then had to initiate a request to the Kremlin to solicit a briefing by Putin. (Putin graciously obliged.) But it was a signal of displeasure to ‘Bibi’ from the Kremlin as well as a warning to behave responsibly in the period ahead.

Added to the Saudi back-tracking in Lebanon, Israel has been virtually put out of business. Besides, the fact of the matter is that ISIS has been defeated and the Syrian army controls over 98 percent of territory (according to Russian estimates.) There is already talk of a winding down of the Russian military presence in Syria before the end of the year.

So, how will the post-conflict scenario look in Syria? The Sochi summit provided some signposts. There are five main ‘takeaways’.

  • Turkey has a deal with Russia and Iran to accept Assad’s continuance as leader through the transition – and even beyond (more of that below) – and in return, President Erdogan scored a major victory in keeping the Kurds from inclusion in the settlement.
  • The troika – Russia, Iran and Turkey – will be in the driving seat to shepherd the Syrian parties to the negotiating table in Geneva where the UN will notionally preside over the talks. The three countries will decide the participants for the upcoming Syrian Dialogue to be held in Sochi in early December to discuss a constitution and deliberate on the broad contours of a settlement.
  • The troika will also continue to be the ‘guarantor powers’ ensuring the ceasefire and will coordinate the maintenance of security within Syria through the uncertain period ahead. But the so-called ‘de-escalation zones’ as such will be an interim measure, which will be disbanded once the transition is complete. That means, there is no scope for external powers to carve out ‘spheres of influence’ on Syrian territory.
  • A US withdrawal from Syria becomes inevitable, no matter what Defence Secretary James Mattis might say or not. In fact, an open-ended US military presence (such as in Afghanistan) will be possible only through the establishment of a puppet government in Syria, which is inconceivable.
  • Russia has emerged as the Master of Ceremonies. This is not at all surprising since Russia is the only power on earth which has networking with all protagonists within Syria, in the region and internationally. The Russians displayed a masterly performance in optimally conducting ‘coercive diplomacy’. It is an incredible feat that they entered the Syrian conflict only in September 2015 but turned the tide of the war within a short period of time, went on to crush the ISIS, and consolidated Assad’s position as the unassailable future leader – all within a matter of two years flat – and are now putting together the nuts and bolts of a settlement almost suo moto, while also carrying along the ‘losers’ in the war and altogether eschewing triumphalism.

Trump himself appears to be on board Putin’s settlement formula, which is of a unitary Syrian state and a democratically government that comes out of UN-supervised elections in which all Syrians (including Assad) can contest. (To jog memory, the Trump-Putin statement on Syria after their meeting in Da Nang even made a reference to Assad.)

Indeed, there are grey areas still. The most important one involves the continued presence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, the militia supported by Iran and Hezbollah who have been the real source of strength on the ground for the Syrian government. But it is unrealistic to expect the Syrian army to handle the security all by itself through the delicate period of transition. There are terrorist groups present on Syrian soil, as the massive attack in Damascus today shows.

The bottom line is that the above becomes a non-issue if Assad remains in power because as the democratically elected leader of a sovereign country, it will be his prerogative to seek help from any quarter to strengthen national security. And the plain truth is that there is no credible opposition figure who can rival Assad in a free and fair election in Syria. If anything, the 7-year bloody civil war strengthens Assad’s appeal to the Syrian people cutting across religion or sects as the only bulwark against instability and chaos. To my mind, all that Assad needs is a level playing field in the nature of an inclusive democratic process.

Russia and Iran insisted throughout that it is for the Syrian people to elect or reject candidates in a democratic election. Turkey has now virtually identified with that principled stance. In a very significant remark, Turkish President Recep Erdogan said after the Sochi summit that he does not rule out resuming contacts with Assad in the coming period. The principle that it is simply not for outsiders to prescribe the political future of Syria is only going to get wider regional and international acceptance. In fact, one can visualize even European countries re-establishing ties with Damascus in a near future.

November 27, 2017 Posted by | Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Trump’s line on Syria prevails – in Washington

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | November 27, 2017

Some of the confusion as to who sets the US policies on Syria may be clearing up. It seems Trump plays an influential role.

This first became discernible when despite the shenanigans of state department functionaries to scuttle a meeting between him and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Danang on November 10 (pleading ‘scheduling difficulty’), the two veterans snatched a few minutes together the next day to be able to sign up on a US-Russian joint statement on Syria stressing an inclusive political solution through free and fair elections under a new constitution.

The very next day, however, senior state department officials began fudging the statement by injecting a dose of poison into it – by hinting at a continued US military presence in Syria (echoing an earlier remark by US Defence Secretary James Mattis) and reiterating the archaic demand that President Bashar Al-Assad just cannot be part of even the transition.

Moscow objected promptly to point out that the Trump-Putin statement did not require any annotation. At any rate, Putin touched base with Trump personally exactly 10 days later on November 21 (on the eve of the famous ‘trilateral summit’ in Sochi) where they simply picked up the threads of discussion in Danang.

Once again, they had an amiable conversation. (The Kremlin released an unusually detailed press release, here)  Once again, Trump appeared to be clear-headed and purposive about working with Putin to bring the war to an end and to negotiate an inclusive settlement that brought enduring peace. Possibly, Trump senses that there are pockets of resistance within the administration to his line on Syria.

Indeed, on Sunday, the State Department came out with a statement on the upcoming intra-Syrian talks in Geneva. It made no ‘pre-condition’ on Assad and instead acknowledged that the elections under a new constitution “should include the broadest spectrum of Syrian citizens, including all groups with representation and influence on the ground.” Bravo!

Interestingly, it also urged Assad’s government pointedly “to enter into substantive negotiations.” (The Trump-Putin statement in Danang had mentioned Assad by name.) There was absolutely no trace of polemics, rancor or sophistry.

Now the ‘residual’ ambiguity is limited to the US presence in Syria. But here again, a backtracking seems to be under way. The official US position was that 500 American personnel were deployed to Syria to help the Syrian Democratic Forces (read Kurdish militia) to fight the ISIS. But the Pentagon is considering how to acknowledge that the actual number could be 2,000! (Reuters )

However, the good thing is, again, that Trump in a phone call to Turkish President Recep Erdogan on November 24 pledged to “ensure the stability of a unified Syria” and, more importantly, held out the commitment that the US will no longer supply arms to the Syrian Kurdish militia whom the Turks regard as terrorists. Prior to that, Trump had tweeted, “Will be speaking to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey this morning about bringing peace to the mess that I inherited in the Middle East. I will get it all done, but what a mistake, in lives and dollars (6 trillion), to be there in the first place!”

Of course, Turkey has now demanded that it expects the US to altogether end its partnership with Syrian Kurds. (Xinhua) To be sure, the US presence in Syria will be wound up, no matter Mattis’ swagger. A commentary today in the Jerusalem Post argues persuasively that continued US military presence in Syria really doesn’t make sense – not even for ‘containing’ Iran.  

The point is, unless Turkey, Syria and Iraq allowed the US supply lines to the remote northeastern region of Syria, a presence there is impossible to maintain – and all these three countries (plus of course, Iran and Russia) want the US troops to vacate.

The sobriety of the latest US state department statement is also to be attributed to the dramatic shift in the Saudi stance. The Russian presidential envoy on Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, was present in Riyadh last week (and was received by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman) even as Syrian opposition groups congregated there to pick a negotiating team for the Geneva talks. Their new leader Nasr al-Hariri, is a cardiologist by profession. He is a Syrian dissident but not an embittered defector like his predecessor Riyad Hijab, who used to be the Syrian prime minister. Moscow has dealt with Nasr al-Hariri previously.

November 27, 2017 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Wars for Israel | , , | Leave a comment

US attempt to fuel Iraq-Iran rift backfires

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | October 26, 2017

The US project to create a rift between Iraq and Iran backfired just a couple of days of its launch from Riyadh on October 22 by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Washington effectively sought out Saudi Arabia to project itself as counterweight to Iran in the Iraqi theatre, predicated on the presumption that Riyadh’s offer to extend funding to ‘rebuild’ post-ISIS Iraq will be found irresistible by Baghdad. Washington fancied that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is looking for ways to push back at Tehran, as his dependency on Iran’s military support is diminishing with the defeat of ISIS.

Tillerson travelled to Riyadh over the weekend to be present as a special guest at the first inaugural meeting of the so-called Saudi Arabia-Iraq Coordination Council. Things seemed to go well and Tillerson’s remarks to the media exuded optimism. At a press conference in Riyadh, he said that the Saudi largesse will “strengthen Iraq as an independent and whole country… (and) this will be in some ways counter some of the unproductive influences of Iran inside of Iraq.” Tillerson then came to the point:

  • Certainly, Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against Daesh and ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home. Any foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to regain control of areas that had been overtaken by ISIS and Daesh that have now been liberated, allow the Iraqi people to rebuild their lives with the help of their neighbors. And I think this agreement that has been put in place between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Iraq is a crucial element to assisting the Iraqi people to do that. (Transcript)

The reference was to the Shi’ite militia groups funded, trained and deployed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, which literally bore the brunt of the fight against the ISIS in the recent years. Washington is particularly incensed over the lead role by the Shi’ite paramilitary groups in seizing Kirkuk recently from the Kurdish Peshmerga who are US allies. (See my blog Kirkuk bells also toll for US strategy in Syria.)

Evidently, Tillerson crossed the red line. The point is, these Shi’ite groups, collectively known as Popular Mobilisation Forces and several tens of thousands strong, are probably going to be designated as part of the Iraqi armed forces. Abadi’s office in Baghdad came out in no time with a stinging rebuke – “No party has the right to interfere in Iraqi matters” – and called the Shi’ite paramilitary groups “patriots.” The next day, when Tillerson showed up in Baghdad for a meeting with Abadi, the latter was fairly explicit. Abadi said the Popular Mobilisation Forces form “part of the Iraqi institutions” and they will be the “hope of country and the region.” (Reuters )

Later, in an interview with the American press, Abadi retorted: “We would like to work with you (US)… But please don’t bring your trouble inside Iraq. You can sort it anywhere else.” Abadi then began suggesting a US troop withdrawal from Iraq. He said that US air power won’t be needed anymore and Iraq’s requirements will be henceforth on intelligence sharing and help to train Iraqi forces. The way things are shaping up between Washington and Tehran, continued US military presence in Iraq may become problematic in a near future.

Meanwhile, having gambled on the independence referendum only to lose oil-rich Kirkuk, Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani is suing for ceasefire and talks with Baghdad. The US is urging Abadi to respond to Barzani’s overture and engage with him in discussions. The Trump administration has secured strong Congressional support for its demands on Abadi. Signaling the seriousness of the demands, On Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry issued the following statement to pressure Baghdad:

  • Ongoing clashes between forces aligned with the Iraqi government and Kurdistan Regional Government are undermining hard-fought gains in the fight against ISIS, and threatening to plunge Iraq into a new wave of sectarian violence. The bloodshed must stop immediately. We support a united Iraq under the federal government in Baghdad, and we support the Kurdistan Regional Government.
  • To that end, we welcome today’s reports that the Kurds are offering to suspend results of their recent referendum in return for a ceasefire and negotiations with the central government. Baghdad should accept this offer and enter into meaningful discussions that address long-term Kurdish concerns about autonomy, share of the national budget, and oil revenues. Meanwhile, it is critical that the Iraqi government heed Secretary Tillerson’s concern about the role and activities of Iranian-backed Shia militias. We are very concerned about Iranian involvement in recent operations. These forces have been responsible for horrible abuses, including the deaths of Americans. They have no place in a peaceful, united, and stable Iraq.

But Abadi is parrying. He visited Ankara on Wednesday to consult President Recep Erdogan. (Rudaw ) The latest reports suggest that the Iraqi forces with the support of the Shi’ite forces might go for the jugular veins of the Iraqi Kurds. Baghdad will want to drive home the advantage that the Kurds are not cohesive and are split 3-ways with the PUK (which was led by late Talabani) inclined to cooperate with Baghdad and Tehran, thereby isolating Barzani who is reduced now increasingly as a US-Israeli proxy. (Turkey has also become hostile toward Barzani following his push for the Kurdish independence referndum.)  The Russian news agency Sputnik reported today as ‘breaking news’ that  Iraqi troops and Shi’ite militias had been pulling heavy artillery and tanks close to Peshmerga positions near Zummar and shelling their positions. (Sputnik ) If a flare-up ensues in coming days, the US will be in a tight spot, apart from the breakdown of ties between Washington and Baghdad.

The US’ problem, quintessentially, is that its intentions are suspect in all three key regional capitals confronting the Kurdish question – Ankara, Baghdad, Tehran. At a recent meeting with US ambassador Douglas Sliman, Iraqi Vice-President Nouri al-Maliki said with brutal frankness, “We will not allow the creation of a second Israel in northern Iraq.”

Last week’s events underscore three things. One, the US does not intend to end its military presence in Iraq (and Syria), although the pretext of the war against the ISIS is no longer there. Two, US is planning to turn Iraq into a major theatre of confrontation with Iran.

A US control of Iraq puts it in a position to pile pressure on Iran from different directions — interfering with Iranian supply routes to Syria and Lebanon; playing itself back to regain a role in the Syrian settlement; having a say in Iraq’s rising oil production and staging covert cross-border operations to destabilize the Iranian regime. Indeed, with the open-ended US military presence already in place in Afghanistan, the intention is to squash with a similar western neighbor under American tutelage.

Three, fundamentally, it becomes all too obvious that the US-Saudi alliance in regional politics is very much alive and kicking, and any reports to the contrary are greatly exaggerated. The US’ return to the centre stage in Iraq to challenge Iran’s regional influence will give much verve to the US alliance with Saudi Arabia.

Interestingly, the Saudi establishment daily Asharq Al-Awsat reported last week that the Pentagon plans to boost deployments to the Middle East specifically to counter Iran. The report cited General Joseph Votel, commander of the US Central Command, as saying, “The United States wants to help the Arab countries deal with Iranian threats. The Pentagon is working to achieve that desire and ensure its effective implementation. That includes the establishment of US military battalions sent as missions to the region and be designed specifically to provide advice and assistance.”

October 26, 2017 Posted by | Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Kirkuk bell also tolls for US strategy in Syria

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | October 22, 2017

The rout of the Kurds in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk this week constitutes a major setback for the overall American strategies toward Iraq and Syria. The prospect of an unceremonious US retreat from Syria haunts the Trump administration in immediate terms, and it is all the more galling because Tehran is calibrating it.

Clearly, Iran has pushed the envelope, furious over US President Donald Trump’s provocative threats of sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Tehran had warned that US position in the entire Middle East will become increasingly untenable if Trump moved against the IRGC. The capture of Kirkuk by the Baghdad government was a de facto military operation by the Shi’ite militia known as the Hashd al-Shaabi, which was trained and equipped by the IRGC. The western reports suggest that the charismatic commander of the IRGC’s secretive Quds Force, General Qassem Soleimani personally masterminded the military operation – and even prepared the political ground for it.

The US had tried to prevail upon the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi not to move against the Kurds who were its allies. Kirkuk is estimated to hold at least 8000 million barrels of subterranean oil. The oil revenue is critical for the survival of any independent Kurdish state. Evidently, Abadi didn’t listen due to the emergent threat posed by the Kurds’ recent independence referendum. Equally, Iran wanted to finish off the spectre of an independent Kurdistan in the region spearheaded by Massoud Barzani (who enjoys the backing of US and Israel.)

Indeed, the defeat in Kirkuk destroys the Iraqi Kurds’ dream of an independent state and derails the longstanding US-Israeli project to create a base with strategic location. Equally, the liberation of Kirkuk, which is populated by the Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen by the Iran-supported Shi’te militia highlights the strategic convergence between Baghdad, Tehran and Ankara in preventing the creation of an independent Kurdistan in the region.

However, the defeat of Barzani in Kirkuk has far wider ramifications – for Iraq as well as the Syrian conflict, apart from the US’ influence in the Middle East as a whole. At its most obvious level, Iran is thwarting the US plans to balkanize Iraq. Iraq’s unity is no longer under serious threat. Control of the vast oil reserves in Kirkuk will also bolster the Iraqi economy. Baghdad can be expected to reassert its authority over the country. The federal government has taken over the border crossings with Turkey and Syria.

The US attempt in the coming period will be to woo Abadi and encourage him to whittle down Iran’s influence in Iraq. The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Riyadh on Saturday on a hastily arranged trip with the hope of getting Saudi King Salman to take a hand in persuading Abadi to keep Tehran’s influence on Iraq at bay and to mediate between Abadi and Barzani. The US and Saudi Arabia’s best hope lies in creating differences between Baghdad and Tehran by leveraging Abadi. But the chances of such a ploy working seem remote.

The fact that the US watched the defeat of the Kurds in Kirkuk passively tarnishes the overall American image, especially among Syrian Kurds. This casts shadows on the Syrian situation. The US has been routing the military supplies for Syrian Kurds in Raqqa via Erbil, Massoud’s stronghold (in the face of Turkey’s virulent opposition.) This supply route is no longer under Barzani’s control and the disruption will affect the US’ operations in Raqqa. The US-led Syrian Kurdish militia claims to have liberated Raqqa, but a real consolidation needs the decimation of the residual ISIS fighters present in the region and it may take months.

More importantly, a ‘trust deficit’ between Syrian Kurds and Washington at this juncture will be calamitous. Raqqa is Arab territory and the Kurdish militia’s supply lines are already overstretched. The disruption in American supplies means that it may now be a mater of time before Syrian Kurds seek some modus vivendi with the Syrian regime. If American military supplies dry up, Syrian Kurds will also come under pressure from Turkey in the swathe of northern Syria bordering Turkey, which form their traditional homelands. Turkey never liked a Kurdish entity taking shape across their border.

Interestingly, the commander of the Syrian Kurdish militia Sipan Hamo visited Moscow last weekend. The Russians indeed find themselves in an enviable position to drive a hard bargain over the Kurds’ sorrows. Russia is in a unique position to mediate between Syrian Kurds on one side and Ankara and Damascus on the other. But then, what is it that the Kurds can offer Russia in return? Last Thursday, Rosneft signed a big oil deal with Barzani’s government in northern Iraq. To be sure, the old Kurdish saying has some merit – ‘The Kurds have no friends but the mountains.’ (Guardian )

The main impact of last week’s dramatic events is that the US now has no conceivable reason to continue with a military intervention in eastern Syria. The likelihood is that Syrian Kurds will sooner or later hand over Raqqa also to the government forces. Clearly, the Syrian regime’s march to victory is from now onward relentless and irreversible. That is to say, the best-laid plans of the US and its regional allies to balkanize Syria have also gone awry.

Maybe, there will be a federal system in future Iraq and Syria. But last week’s events have ensured that the two countries’ territorial unity and integrity will no longer be under serious threat. Of course, that has also been at the core of the Iranian strategy.

October 22, 2017 Posted by | Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Iran checkmates US, Israel

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | September 24, 2017

The announcement in Tehran on Saturday regarding the successful test of a ballistic missile with a range of 2000 kilometers and capable of carrying multiple warheads to hit different targets phenomenally shifts the military balance in the Middle East.

Israel and the roughly 45,000 US troops deployed to the Middle East – Jordan (1500 troops), Iraq (5200), Kuwait (15000), Bahrain (7000), Qatar (10000), UAE (5000), Oman (200) – fall within the range of the latest Iranian missile. Iran has demonstrated a deterrent capability that deprives the US and Israel of a military option.

The missile test signals Tehran’s strategic defiance of the US, after President Donald Trump’s outrageous remarks against Iran in his address to the UN GA. From this point, Trump has to be very careful about tearing up the Iran nuclear deal. Any such rash act by Trump or the lawmakers in the Congress (imposing new sanctions) can be seized by Tehran to resume its previous nuclear program, which would have far-reaching implications, given its missile capabilities.

President Hassan Rouhani took a tough line after returning to Tehran from New York. He warned that if Trump violated the nuclear deal, “we will be firm and all options will be before us.” Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif told New York Times tauntingly that if the US wanted to re-negotiate the nuclear deal, Tehran too will insist on re-negotiating every single concession it made – “Are you prepared to return to us 10 tons of enriched uranium?”

Rouhani made a strident speech at a military parade on Friday in Tehran underscoring that Iran did not need any country’s permission to bolster its missile capability. He added, “The Iranian nation has always been after peace and security in the region and the world and we will defend the oppressed Yemeni, Syrian and Palestinian people whether you like it or not.”

“As long as some speak in the language of threats, the strengthening of the country’s defense capabilities will continue and Iran will not seek permission from any country for producing various kinds of missile,” Defence Minister Amir Hatami said in a statement Saturday.

What emerges is Iran’s determination to consolidate its influence in Syria. The US will have to carefully weigh the repercussions before making any intervention (which Israel is pressing for.) Again, Iran may establish a long-term presence in Syria. The Iran-supported battle-hardened Shiite militia fighting in Iraq and Syria is a veritable 100,000-strong army and Iran is in a position to force the eviction of US forces from Iraq and Syria.

The Trump administration must take with the utmost seriousness the thinly veiled threat by the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari on Wednesday (while reacting to Trump’s UN speech) – “The time has come for correcting the US’ miscalculations. Now that the US has fully displayed its nature, the government should use all its options to defend the Iranian nation’s interests. Taking a decisive position against Trump is just the start and what is strategically important is that the US should witness more painful responses in the actions, behavior and decisions that Iran will take in the next few months.”

The ballistic missile test followed within 3 days of Gen. Jafari’s threat. Equally, the timing of the missile test can be seen against the backdrop of the referendum being planned for September 25 by the Kurds of northern Iraq, seeking an independent Kurdistan. Tehran is in no doubt that the Kurdistan project is a US-Israeli enterprise to create a permanent base in the highly strategic region with the objective of destabilizing Iran and undermining its regional surge in Syria and Iraq.

Unsurprisingly, Israel is furious about Iran’s missile test. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called it a “a provocation and a slap in the face for the United States and its allies — and an attempt to test them.” Clearly, Israel is in panic that Iran is steadily, inexorably outstripping it as the number one regional power in the Middle East. However, beyond rhetoric, Israel cannot do much about Iran’s surge.

Israel foolishly instigated Trump to provoke Tehran just at this juncture when he is barely coping with the crisis in Northeast Asia. A containment strategy against Iran is no longer feasible. Wisdom lies in the Trump administration engaging Iran in a constructive spirit to influence its regional policies. Threats never worked against Iran. Time and again they’ve proved to be counterproductive.

September 24, 2017 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

US could easily verify massacre of Kurdish civilians in Syria if they wanted

RT | August 16, 2013

Defending themselves by all means available is the Kurdish Popular Defense Units’ (YPG) last resort in Syria, the group’s spokesperson Redor Khalil told RT.

Amid Western inaction and Russian condemnation of massacres against the Kurds, Redor Khalil said that evidence is readily available to support the injustice perpetrated against the Kurdish people by militants sponsored from abroad – if anybody were to listen.

RT: Tell us about the Popular Defense Units. Is it your objective to protect the Kurds, or to protect all the residents of this territory?

Redor Khalil: The Popular Defense Units were established to protect all the people – Kurds as well as Arabs. We formed the units in 2011 when the war began. You should know that Syria, including Western Kurdistan, has a mixed population of Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians, Turkmens, Circassians and so on. Our units were intended to protect all these areas and their residents.

RT: But some are saying that your attacks on enemy positions in Arabic villages are impeding the relations between Kurds and Arabs. Armed clashes in these areas result in losses on both sides.

RK: We don’t believe that our actions will result in social disintegration. Kurds and Arabs have been living side-by-side in these territories for centuries, and they will keep it this way in the future.

We’ve said time and again that we strongly disapprove of ethnic, religious and sectarian wars. However, there are certain powers which have been trying to stir up confusion and to make it look like a fight between Kurds and Arabs for the sake of their own interests.

As you travel through these areas you may ask the local members of minorities and religious groups whether there is a sectarian war taking place here. I can assure you that it’s not the case.

Our traditions, moral values and principles prevent us from starting a war between different religious or ethnic groups. Neither Kurds nor Arabs want this war to happen. But some forces are working on instigating a conflict between us as a part of their plan.

RT: We’ve been around Qamishli, where the clashes take place. The YPG members told us that Jabhat Al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are much better armed. With this in mind, can the YPG really ensure people’s security and extend it to other regions? And what is your opinion on some foreign states supplying weapons to these terrorist groups?

RK: The YPG units are made up of the local population. Our main strategy is defense, not offense. If there are no attacks on our territory, no threats to our towns and cities, we do not take any offensive action. We don’t attack anyone or provoke confrontation. But since our territories are under attack, we have to defend ourselves with all the means available. Our enemy gets support from the outside; they have heavy armaments and plenty of ammunition. I can state openly that the YPG units do not get any support from foreign countries. We employ a defensive strategy in all our operations, using only our own weapons and ammunition.

RT: Recently it was rumored that Kurdish political forces want to create a government of the so-called Western Kurdistan. It’s well-known that there are external Kurdish elements that support the idea. How would you comment on these rumors?

RK: Some parties and movements declare this project their main political objective. On behalf of the YPG members and based on the information we have, I can say that they don’t intend to set up a government for Western Kurdistan. This is just talk meant to drive a wedge between different ethnic groups living in the region. Syria is going through a very difficult and dangerous time right now. There are some places in Syria over which the current regime will never be able to regain control. People living there are in dire need of governing authorities, which the Free Syrian Army has already created in Idlib and Ar-Raqqah. There’s nothing surprising about that, and it’s the same thing the Kurdish people want – self-government over the areas where the Kurds live is an inherent part of our political project. Some political movements claim that it springs from our desire to separate from Syria and create our own state and government. They aim to sow seeds of discord among various ethnic and religious groups living in this area and exacerbate the already complicated state of affairs. They are just pursuing their own selfish goals.

RT: Some opposition groups say that the YPG leaders coordinate their operations with the Syrian government and its army forces. What kind of relations do you maintain with the Syrian government?

RK: We have vehemently denied these allegations before, and we will keep doing so. We don’t maintain any relations with the government. The Popular Protection Units have no connection to the regime. You have seen for yourselves that the government officials stay inside the city. The rest of the territory is under our control. Basically, the YPG is in charge there and responsible for ensuring security.

RT: Speaking of Jabhat al-Nusra’s massacre in Afrin and Qamishli, the Russian Foreign Ministry and several human rights organizations condemned it, but the US State Department said that they have no hard evidence of genocidal intent against the Kurdish people. How would you explain this US stance?

RK: I think that if the US truly wanted to get to the bottom of this, it would be very easy – it’s crystal clear what exactly is happening. The massacre of Kurdish civilians in places like Tal Hasil and Tal Aran is a dark but undeniable fact. There are eyewitnesses of these events, and we at the YPG, as well as several Kurdish civilians, have documentary proof of it. We are ready to give this proof to international organizations and mass media to show them the truth of this horrible war the radical Islamists are fighting on our soil. I think the main reason for this massacre is that the YPG defeated the militants at Ras al-Ayn where they were based, maintaining control over a border checkpoint. After they suffered defeat at Rumeylan the radical groups attacked civilians who are not involved in military action.

August 16, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, War Crimes | , , , , | Leave a comment