Voices from Syria’s Rukban Refugee Camp Belie Corporate Media Reporting

Global Research, July 05, 2019
MintPress News 4 July 2019

Eva Bartlett visited refugees in Syria escaping the horrid conditions in the Rukban Refugee Camp, a desolate outpost in the US administered deconfliction zone. What she found was very different than the ‘reality’ depicted by the Western press.


A little over a year ago — just after the Syrian army and its allies liberated the towns and villages around eastern Ghouta from the myriad armed jihadist groups that had waged a brutal campaign of torture and executions in the area — I interviewed a number of the civilians that had endured life under jihadist rule in Douma, Kafr Batna and the Horjilleh Center for Displaced People just south of Damascus.

A common theme emerged from the testimonies of those civilians: starvation as a result of jihadist control over aid and food supplies, and the public execution of civilians.

Their testimonies echoed those of civilians in other areas of Syria formerly occupied by armed anti-government groups, from Madaya and al-Waer to eastern Aleppo and elsewhere.

Despite those testimonies and the reality on the ground, Western politicians and media alike have placed the blame for the starvation and suffering of Syrian civilians squarely on the shoulders of Russia and Syria, ignoring the culpability of terrorist groups.

In reality, terrorist groups operating within areas of Syria that they occupy have had full control over food and aid, and ample documentation shows that they have hoarded food and medicines for themselves. Even under better circumstances, terrorist groups charged hungry civilians grotesquely inflated prices for basic foods, sometimes demanding up to 8,000 Syrian pounds (US $16) for a kilogram of salt, and 3,000 pounds (US $6) for a bag of bread.

Given the Western press’ obsessive coverage of the starvation and lack of medical care endured by Syrian civilians, its silence has been deafening in the case of Rukban — a desolate refugee camp in Syria’s southeast where conditions are appalling to such an extent that civilians have been dying as a result. Coverage has been scant of the successful evacuations of nearly 15,000 of the 40,000 to 60,000 now-former residents of Rukban (numbers vary according to source) to safe havens where they are provided food, shelter and medical care.

Silence about the civilian evacuations from Rukban is likely a result of the fact that those doing the rescuing are the governments of Syria and Russia — and the fact that they have been doing so in the face of increasing levels of opposition from the U.S. government.

A harsh, abusive environment

Rukban lies on Syria’s desolate desert border with Jordan, surrounded by a 55-km deconfliction zone, unilaterally established and enforced by the United States, and little else aside from the American base at al-Tanf, only 25 km away — a base whose presence is illegal under international law.

It is, by all reports, an unbearably harsh environment year-round and residents of the camp have endured abuse by terrorist groups and merchants within the camp, deprived of the very basics of life for many years now.

In February, the UNHCR reported that young girls and women in Rukban have been forced into marriage, some more than once. Their briefing noted:

Many women are terrified to leave their mud homes or tents and to be outside, as there are serious risks of sexual abuse and harassment. Our staff met mothers who keep their daughters indoors, as they are too afraid to let them go to improvised schools.”

The Jordanian government, home to 664,330 registered Syrian refugees, has adamantly refused any responsibility in providing humanitarian assistance to Rukban, arguing that it is a Syrian issue and that keeping its border with Syria closed is a matter of Jordan’s security — this after a number of terrorist attacks on the border near Rukban, some of which were attributed to ISIS and one that killed six Jordanian soldiers.

According to U.S. think-tank The Century Foundation, armed groups in Rukban have up to 4,000 men in their ranks and include:

Maghawir al-Thawra, the Free Tribes Army, the remnants of a formerly Pentagon-backed group called the Qaryatein Martyr Battalions and three factions formerly linked to the CIA’s covert war in Syria: the Army of the Eastern Lions, the Martyr Ahmed al-Abdo Forces, and the Shaam Liberation Army.”

Those armed groups, according to Russia, include several hundred ISIS and al-Qaeda recruits. Even the Atlantic Council — a NATO- and U.S. State Department-funded think-tank consistent in its anti-Syrian government stance — reported in November 2017 that the Jordanian government acknowledged an ISIS presence in Rukban.

The Century Foundation also notes the presence of ISIS in Rukban and concedes that the U.S. military “controls the area but won’t guarantee the safety of aid workers seeking access to the camp.”


The Rukban camp, sandwiched between Jordan, Syria borders and Iraq, Feb. 14, 2017. Raad Adayleh | AP

Syria and Russia have sought out diplomatic means to resolve the issue of Rukban, arguing repeatedly at the United Nations Security Council for the need to dismantle the camp and return refugees to areas once plagued by terrorism but that have now been secured.

As I wrote recently:

The U.S. stymied aid to Rukban, and was then only willing to provide security for aid convoys to a point 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) away from the camp, according to the UN’s own Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock. So, by U.S. administration logic, convoys should have dropped their Rukban-specific aid in areas controlled by terrorist groups and just hoped for the best.”

The U.S., for its part, has both refused the evacuation of refugees from the camp and obstructed aid deliveries on at least two occasions. In February, Russia and Syria opened two humanitarian corridors to Rukban and began delivering much-needed aid to its residents.

Syria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Bashar al-Ja’afari, noted in May 2019 that Syria agreed to facilitate the first aid convoy to Rukban earlier this year, but the convoy was ultimately delayed by the United States for 40 days. A second convoy was then delayed for four months. Al-Ja’afari also noted that the U.S., as an occupying power in Syria, is obliged under the Geneva Conventions to provide food, medicine and humanitarian assistance to those under its occupation.

Then, in early March, the Russian Center for Reconciliation reported that U.S. authorities had refused entry to a convoy of buses intending to enter the deconfliction zone to evacuate refugees from Rukban.

According to a March 2019 article from Public Radio International:

[W]hen Syrian and Iranian forces have entered the 34-mile perimeter around the base, American warplanes have responded with strikes — effectively putting Rukban and its residents under American protection from Assad’s forces.”

Despite the abundance of obstacles they faced, Syria and Russia were ultimately able to evacuate over 14,000 of the camp’s residents to safety. In a joint statement on June 19, representatives of the two countries noted that some of the camp’s residents were forced to pay “militants” between $400 to $1000 in order to leave Rukban.

Media reports on Rukban … from abroad

While Rukban — unlike Madaya or Aleppo in 2016 — generally isn’t making headlines, there are some pro-regime-change media reporting on it, although even those reports tend to omit the fact that civilians have been evacuated to safety and provided with food and medical care.

Instead, articles relieve America and armed Jihadist groups of their role in the suffering of displaced Syrians in Rukban, reserving blame for Syria and Russia and claiming internal refugees are being forced to leave against their will only to be imprisoned by the Syrian government.

Emad Ghali, a “media activist,” has been at the center of many of these claims. Ghali has been cited as a credible source in most of the mainstream Western press’ reporting on Rukban, from the New York Times, to Al Jazeera, to the Middle East Eye. Cited since at least 2018 in media reporting on Rukban, Ghali has an allegiance to the Free Syrian Army, a fact easily gleaned by simply browsing his Facebook profile. He recently posted multiple times on Facebook mourning the passing of jihadist commander and footballer Abdul Baset al-Sarout. As it turns out, Sarout not only held extremist and sectarian views, but pledged allegiance to ISIS, among other less-than-noble acts ignored by most media reports that cite him.

Ghali ISIS

Ghali paid homage to ISIS commander Abdul Baset al-Sarout on his Facebook page

Citing Ghali as merely a “media activist” is not an unusual practice for many covering the Syrian conflict. In fact, Ghali holds the same level of extremist-minded views as the “sources” cited by the New York Times in articles that I reported on around the time Ghouta was being liberated from jihadist groups in 2018.

Four sources used in those articles had affiliations to, and/or reverence for the al-Qaeda-linked Jaysh al-Islam — including the former leader Zahran Alloush who has been known to confine civilians in cages, including women and children, for use as human shields in Ghouta — Faylaq al-Rahman, and even to al-Qaeda, not to mention the so-called Emir of al-Qaeda in Syria, the applauded Abu Muhammad Al-Julani.

Claims in a Reuters article of forced internment, being held at gunpoint in refugee centers, come from sources not named in Rukban — instead generically referred to as “residents of Rukban say”…

An article in the UAE-based The National also pushed fear-mongering over the “fate that awaits” evacuees, saying:

[T]here is talk of Syrian government guards separating women and children from men in holding centres in Homs city.There are also accusations of a shooting last month, with two men who had attempted an escape from one of the holding centres allegedly killed. The stories are unconfirmed, but they are enough to make Rukban’s men wary of taking the government’s route out.”

Yet reports from those who have actually visited the centers paint a different picture.

An April 2019 report by Russia-based Vesti News shows calm scenes of Rukban evacuees receiving medical exams by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, who according to Vesti, have doctors there every day; and of food and clean, if not simple, rooms in a former school housing displaced refugees from Rukban. Notably, the Vesti journalist states: “There aren’t any checkpoints or barriers at the centre. The entrance and exit are free.”

The Russian Reconciliation Center reported on May 23 of the refugee centers:

In early May, these shelters were visited by officials from the respective UN agencies, in particular, the UNHCR, who could personally see that the Syrian government provided the required level of accommodation for the refugees in Homs. It is remarkable that most of the former Rukban residents have already relocated from temporary shelters in Homs to permanent residencies in government-controlled areas.”

Likewise, in the Horjilleh Center which I visited in 2018 families were living in modest but sanitary shelters, cooked food was provided, a school was running, and authorities were working to replace identity papers lost during the years under the rule of jihadist groups.

Calling on the U.S. to close the camp

David Swanson, Public Information Officer Regional Office for the Syria Crisis UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs based in Amman, Jordan, told me regarding claims of substandard conditions and of Syrians being forcefully held or mistreated in the centers that,

People leaving Rukban are taken to temporary collective shelters in Homs for a 24-hour stay. While there, they receive basic assistance, including shelter, blankets, mattresses, solar lamps, sleeping mats, plastic sheets, food parcels and nutrition supplies before proceeding to their areas of choice, mostly towards southern and eastern Homs, with small numbers going to rural Damascus or Deir-ez-Zor.

The United Nations has been granted access to the shelters on three occasions and has found the situation there adequate. The United Nations continues to advocate and call for safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian assistance and access to Rukban as well as to all those in need throughout Syria. The United Nations also seeks the support of all concerned parties in ensuring the humanitarian and voluntary character of departures from Rukban.”

Hedinn Halldorsson, the Spokesperson and Public Information Officer for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) based in Damascus, told me:

We looked into this when the rumours started, end of April, and concluded they were unfounded – and communicated that externally via press briefings in both Geneva and NY. The conditions in the shelters in Homs are also adequate and in compliance with standards; the UN has access and has done three monitoring visits so far.”

Syria Rukban

Syrian Arab Red Crescent members unload food and water for Rukban’s evacuees. Photo | Eva Bartlett

Halldorsson noted official UN statements, including:

“Alleged mistreatment of Rukban returnees

  • The United Nations is aware of media reports about people leaving Rukban having been killed or subject to mistreatment upon arrival in shelters in Homs.
  • The United Nations has not been able to confirm any of the allegations.

Regarding the issue of shelters, Halldorsson noted that as of July 1st:

  • Nearly 15,600 people have left Rukban since March – or nearly 40 per cent of the estimated total population of 41,700.
  • The United Nations has been granted access to the shelters in Homs on three occasions and found conditions in these shelters to be adequate.”

Confirming both UN officials’ statements about the Syrian government’s role in Rukban, the Syrian Mission to the United Nations in New York City told me:

The Syrian Government has spared no effort in recent years to provide every form of humanitarian assistance and support to all Syrians affected by the crisis, regardless of their locations throughout Syria. The Syrian Government has therefore collaborated and cooperated with the United Nations and other international organizations working in Syria to that end, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 46/182.

There must be an end to the suffering of tens of thousands of civilians who live in Al-Rukban, an area which is controlled by illegitimate foreign forces and armed terrorist groups affiliated with them. The continued suffering of those Syrian civilians demonstrates the indifference of the United States Administration to their suffering and disastrous situation.

We stress once again that there is a need to put an end to the suffering of these civilians and to close this camp definitively. The detained people in the camp must be allowed to leave it and return to their homes, which have been liberated by the Syrian Arab Army from terrorism. We note that the Syrian Government has taken all necessary measures to evacuate the detainees from the Rukban camp and end their suffering. What is needed today is for the American occupation forces to allow the camp to be dismantled and to ensure safe transportation in the occupied Al-Tanf area.”

Given that the United States has clearly demonstrated not only a lack of will to aid and or resettle Rukban’s residents but a callousness that flies in the face of their purported concern for Syrians in Rukban, the words of Syrian and Russian authorities on how to solve the crisis in Rukban could not ring truer.

Very little actual coverage

The sparse coverage Rukban has received has mostly revolved around accusations that the camp’s civilians fear returning to government-secured areas of Syria for fear of being imprisoned or tortured. This, in spite of the fact that areas brought back under government control over the years have seen hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians return to live in peace and of a confirmation by the United Nations that they had “positively assessed the conditions created by the Syrian authorities for returning refugees.”

The accusations also come in spite of the fact that, for years now, millions of internally displaced Syrians have taken shelter in government areas, often housed and given medical care by Syrian authorities.

Over the years I’ve found myself waiting for well over a month for my journalist visa at the Syrian embassy in Beirut to clear. During these times I traveled around Lebanon where I’ve encountered Syrians who left their country either for work, the main reason, or because their neighborhoods were occupied by terrorist groups. All expressed a longing for Syria and a desire to return home.

In March, journalist Sharmine Narwani tweeted in part that,

the head of UNDP in Lebanon told me during an interview: ‘I have not met a single Syrian refugee who does not want to go home.’”

Of the authors who penned articles claiming that Syrians in Rukban are afraid to return to government-secured areas of Syria, few that I’m aware of actually traveled to Syria to speak with evacuees, instead reporting from Istanbul or even further abroad.

On June 12, I did just that, hiring a taxi to take me to a dusty stretch of road roughly 60 km east of ad-Dumayr, Syria, where I was able to intercept a convoy of buses ferrying exhausted refugees out of Rukban.

Merchants, armed groups and Americans

Five hundred meters from a fork in the highway connecting a road heading northeast to Tadmur (Palmyra) to another heading southeast towards Iraq — I waited at a nondescript stopping point called al-Waha, where buses stopped for water and food to be distributed to starving refugees. In Arabic, al-Waha means the oasis and, although only a makeshift Red Crescent distribution center, and compared to Rukban it might as well have been an oasis.

A convoy of 18 buses carrying nearly 900 tormented Syrians followed by a line of trucks carrying their belongings were transferred to refugee reception centers in Homs. Members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent distributed boxes containing beans, chickpeas and canned meat — the latter a scarcity among the displaced.

Rukban evacuation

Buses transported nearly 900 refugees from Rukban Camp to temporary shelters in Homs on June 12. Photo | Eva Bartlett

As food and water were handed out, I moved from bus to bus speaking with people who endured years-long shortages of food, medicine, clean water, work and education … the basic essentials of life. Most people I spoke to said they were starving because they couldn’t afford the hefty prices of food in the camp, which they blamed on Rukban’s merchants. Some blamed the terrorist groups operating in the camp and still others blamed the Americans. A few women I spoke to blamed the Syrian government, saying no aid had entered Rukban at all, a claim that would later be refuted by reports from both the UN and Red Crescent.

Image on the right: An elderly woman recounted enduring hunger in Rukban. Photo | Eva Bartlett

Syria Rukban

An old woman slumped on the floor of one bus recounted:

We were dying of hunger, life was hell there. Traders [merchants] sold everything at high prices, very expensive; we couldn’t afford to buy things. We tried to leave before today but we didn’t have money to pay for a car out. There were no doctors; it was horrible there.”

Aboard another bus, an older woman sat on the floor, two young women and several babies around her. She had spent four years in the camp:

“Everything was expensive, we were hungry all the time. We ate bread, za’atar, yogurt… We didn’t know meat, fruit…”

Merchants charged 1,000 Syrian pounds (US $2) for five potatoes, she said, exemplifying the absurdly high prices.

I asked whether she’d been prevented from leaving before. “Yes,” she responded.

She didn’t get a chance to elaborate as a younger woman further back on the bus shouted at her that no one had been preventing anyone from leaving. When I asked the younger woman how the armed groups had treated her, she replied, “All respect to them.”

But others that I spoke to were explicit in their blame for both the terrorist groups operating in the camp and the U.S. occupation forces in al-Tanf.

An older man from Palmyra who spent four years in the camp spoke of “armed gangs” paid in U.S. dollars being the only ones able to eat properly:

The armed gangs were living while the rest of the people were dead. No one here had fruit for several years. Those who wanted fruit have to pay in U.S. dollars. The armed groups were the only ones who could do so. They were spreading propaganda: ‘don’t go, the aid is coming.’ We do not want aid. We want to go back to our towns.”

Mahmoud Saleh, a young man from Homs, told me he’d fled home five years ago. According to Saleh, the Americans were in control of Rukban. He also put blame on the armed groups operating in the camp, especially for controlling who was permitted to leave. He said,

“There are two other convoys trying to leave but the armed groups are preventing them.”

Image below: Mahmoud Saleh from Homs said the Americans control Rukban and blamed armed groups in the camp for controlling who could leave. Photo | Eva Bartlett

Syria Rukban

A shepherd who had spent three years in Rukban blamed “terrorists” for not being able to leave. He also blamed the United States:

“Those controlling Tanf wouldn’t let us leave, the Americans wouldn’t let us leave.”

Many others I spoke to said they had wanted to leave before but were fear-mongered by terrorists into staying, told they would be “slaughtered by the regime,” a claim parroted by many in the Western press when Aleppo and other areas of Syria were being liberated from armed groups.

The testimonies I heard when speaking to Rukban evacuees radically differed from the claims made in most of the Western press’ reporting about Syria’s treatment of refugees. These testimonies are not only corroborated by Syrian and Russian authorities, but also by the United Nations itself.


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Eva Bartlett is a Canadian independent journalist and activist. She has spent years on the ground covering conflict zones in the Middle East, especially in Syria and occupied Palestine, where she lived for nearly four years. She is a recipient of the 2017 International Journalism Award for International Reporting, granted by the Mexican Journalists’ Press Club (founded in 1951), was the first recipient of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism, and was short-listed in 2017 for the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. See her extended bio on her blog In Gaza. She tweets at @EvaKBartlett

Featured image:  An elderly women evacuated from Rukban complained of hunger due to extremely high food prices. Photo | Eva Bartlett

Hezbollah Is Not a Threat to America

Global Research, November 03, 2017

Featured image: Hezbollah’s supporters at Liberation Day, Bint Jbeil, Lebanon, 25 May 2014. (Source: Shutterstock/Gabirelle Pedrini)

Western-backed militants are in retreat, Bashar al-Assad remains president, Hezbollah has stretched its wings regionally, Israeli power is in decline, and Iran is on the rise. Not a pretty result for Washington’s multi-billion dollar investment in the Syrian conflict, especially if it was intended to change the map of the region to favor U.S. interests.

The Trump administration is therefore moving to hit its regional adversaries on alternative, non-military fronts—mainly, employing the sanctions tool that can cripple economies, besiege communities, and stir up public discontent.

The first step was to decertify the nuclear agreement struck between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1), which would open up a pathway to further U.S. sanctions against Iran.

The second step is to resuscitate the Hezbollah “threat” and isolate the organization using legal maneuvers and financial sanctions—what one pro-U.S. Lebanese Central Bank official calls “the new tools of imperialism.”

The U.S. listed Hezbollah as a “terrorist organization” 20 years ago this month. Most other states, as well as the United Nations Security Council, have not.

Two weeks ago, at a State Department briefing on the Hezbollah “threat,” National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas J. Rasmussen tried to paint a picture of an organization that was directing “terrorism acts worldwide” and posing a threat “to U.S. interests” including “here in the homeland.”

“Prior to September 11,” Rasmussen claimed, “I think everybody knows Hezbollah was responsible for the terrorism-related deaths of more U.S. citizens than any other foreign terrorist organization.”

This was news indeed.

A check with a State Department spokesperson confirmed that the “deaths of more U.S. citizens than any other foreign terrorist organization” claim was in reference to the following incidents:

“Hezbollah is responsible for multiple large scale terrorist attacks, including the 1983 suicide truck bombings of the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut; the 1984 attack on the U.S. Embassy annex in Beirut; and the 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847, during which U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem was murdered,” explained the spokesperson in an email.

The 1983 attack on the Beirut barracks took the lives of 241 Americans. The 1983 U.S. embassy bombing killed 17 Americans, and the 1984 attack on the relocated embassy facilities killed two Americans.

Hezbollah has officially and consistently denied involvement in these suicide bombings and was not even established as an organization until 1985. Some write off this important discrepancy by arguing that the bombings would have been conducted by one of Hezbollah’s “precursor organizations,” albeit without providing evidence to prove the point. The U.S. secretary of defense at the time of the bombings, Caspar Weinberger, told PBS almost two decades later, in 2001:

“We still do not have the actual knowledge of who did the bombing of the Marine barracks at the Beirut Airport… and we certainly didn’t then.”

What was the U.S. reaction to the Beirut bombings in 1982? Did it retaliate against this phantom Hezbollah or its “precursor” organizations? No. In what was the heaviest shore bombardment by a U.S. naval vessel since the Korean war, the Americans retreating from Lebanon launched 300 missiles inland, killing hundreds of Druze and Shia non-combatants. In their book Best Laid Plans: The Inside Story of America’s War Against TerrorismDavid C. Martin and John Walcott write about the incident:

In a nine-hour period, the U.S.S. New Jersey fired 288 16-inch rounds, each one weighing as much as a Volkswagen Beetle. In those nine-hours, the ship consumed 40 percent of the 16-inch ammunition available in the entire European theater…in one burst of wretched excess.

It wasn’t until 2003 that Hezbollah was officially fingered in the embassy bombing. In a 30-page decision that resulted from a lawsuit filed by the victims’ families, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth said Hezbollah carried out the attack at the behest of Iran and its Ministry of Information and Security. This was based in part with an alleged Hezbollah bomber who said he was directed “to go forward with attacks” in Lebanon at that time. Critics have called this a “show trial,” comparing it to the 2016 U.S. trial that blamed Iran for the September 11 terrorist attacks, despite the fact that 15 Saudis (and no Iranians) were among the hijackers and the U.S. intelligence community has identified links between Saudi officials and some of the perpetrators.

Meanwhile, the Beirut barracks bombing targeted servicemen from the U.S. and France. This was in the context of Israel’s invasion and occupation of Lebanon in 1982. The Israeli military at the time had been heavily armed and outfitted by the United States. The victims were not non-combatants—they were military forces belonging to governments that were perceived by Lebanese as aiding the aggression against sovereign Lebanon.

Whatever the case and whomever the perpetrator, you don’t get to call such an action “terrorism.” It’s an irrational American narrative that time and time again confounds the Middle East: If the U.S. kills you, you are collateral damage. But if you shoot back, you are a terrorist.

Not Hezbollah

“It’s not really Hezbollah’s modus operandi,” mused former UK Ambassador Frances Guy about the massive car bomb that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri along Beirut’s seafront. We were discussing likely perpetrators during my visit to Beirut in 2010, and Guy told me that the Lebanese resistance group doesn’t really “do” high-octane car bombings in public spaces.

Nonetheless, four Hezbollah operatives stand accused of assassinating Hariri by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), a highly politicized UN investigative body that shifted its focus from one western political adversary to another, until finally settling on Hezbollah.

A revealing Wikileaks cable from 2008 shows the STL’s chief investigator begging the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon to provide the names of “leads” to pursue in Syria. “You are the key player,” he implores Ambassador Michele Sison, adding that the U.S. has “a big investment in the Tribunal.”

In a rare candid moment during an off-the-record meeting in 2011, another senior British official dropped this bombshell:

“The [UN] Tribunal is useful for us to keep the Iranians in line. We don’t have too many tools left to do that.”

Shortly after my meeting with Ambassador Guy in 2010, she was raked over the coals for a blog she posted on the passing of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah—a Lebanese Shia cleric the U.S. has consistently, and many believe incorrectly, called “Hezbollah’s spiritual leader.” She wrote:

Frances Guy

When you visited him you could be sure of a real debate, a respectful argument and you knew you would leave his presence feeling a better person…The world needs more men like him willing to reach out across faiths, acknowledging the reality of the modern world and daring to confront old constraints. May he rest in peace.

Israelis were incensed by Guy’s admiration for the Hezbollah-supporting cleric, and her blog post was scrubbed. But the UK nevertheless sent an official to pay condolences at Fadlallah’s Hassanein mosque, followed by a procession of ambassadors from France, Belgium, Poland, and Denmark. The French and Spanish ambassadors and the UN secretary general sent condolences to Hezbollah too.

Foreign Policy magazine published a piece upon Fadlallah’s death, subtitled: “How the United States got Lebanon’s leading Shiite cleric dead wrong—and missed a chance to change the Middle East forever.” That cryptic sentence refers, of course, to the monumentally misguided off-the-books assassination attempt against Ayatollah Fadlallah organized by CIA Director William Casey in the aftermath of the barracks and embassy bombings—despite the fact that the U.S., per Weinberger’s claims, had no clue who did not.

According to an interview Casey gave to the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, the CIA chief arranged for Saudi funding for the covert operation using Lebanese militias to do the dirty work. Fadlallah escaped death, but 80 others died in the southern Beirut suburb that day, including the brother of a young Imad Mughniyeh, who went on to become a leader of Hezbollah’s security operations.

He had been only nine years old in July 1972, when the Israelis set off Beirut’s first car bomb near the southern suburb where he lived, killing Palestinian poet Ghassan Kanafani and others.

Mughniyeh, you may recall, was himself killed in a car bomb in Damascus in February 2008. In the immediate aftermath of that assassination, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell seemed to misdirect reporters:

“There’s some evidence that it may have been internal Hezbollah. It may have been Syria. We don’t know yet, and we’re trying to sort that out.”

No, it wasn’t Hezbollah and it wasn’t Syria. Seven years later, a series of orchestrated leaks to Newsweek and the Washington Post revealed that the Mughniyeh car bombing came courtesy of a joint operation by the CIA and Mossad.

No Threat to Americans

“Hezbollah is not plotting against us,” former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a small group of anti-government Syrians on the sidelines of the UN’s General Assembly plenary session a year ago.

Kerry’s comments were caught on an audio tape acquired by the New York Times. Asked why the U.S. fights extremist Sunni groups and not Shia ones, he replied:

The reason for [airstrikes against the Sunni Extremists] is because they have basically declared war on us, and are plotting against us, and Hezbollah is not plotting against us— Hezbollah is exclusively focused on Israel, who they’re not attacking now, and on Syria, where they are attacking in support of Assad.

Now, a mere year later, Rasmussen wants us to believe:

“We in the Intelligence Community do, in fact, see continued activity on behalf of Hezbollah here inside the homeland.”

So which is it? Is Hezbollah targeting Americans or not? The evidence of this is extremely slim and is peppered with more use of qualifying terms—-“allegedly,” “reportedly,” “assessments,” “linkages”—than any objective journalist can comfortably swallow. So too are U.S. reports of Hezbollah’s “international terrorist activities.”

American investigative reporter Gareth Porter has done deep dives on various allegations of Hezbollah-linked “terrorism” in ArgentinaBulgariaWashington, DCIndiaSaudi Arabia and other places. The State Department lists many of these incidents as evidence of the “global threat” Hezbollah poses, but always, upon further scrutiny, the accusations ring hollow.

If there was compelling evidence of the Lebanese resistance group’s involvement in all these attacks, then why have so few nations clamored onto the Hezbollah-is-a-terrorist-organization bandwagon? Until the conflict in Syria kicked off, it was restricted to a smattering of western states and Israel. But relentless U.S. pressure, and the seismic battle currently underway in the Middle East between pro-U.S. states and pro-Iran states vying for hegemony, have produced a smattering few recent additions.

In early 2016, the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) designated Hezbollah a terrorist group, followed a few days later by the 21-member Arab League, with Lebanon and Iraq voting against the measure.

Both organizations are heavily dominated by the immensely wealthy and sectarian (read: anti-Shia) Saudis, financial patrons to many Sunni leaders in the region, and a country entrenched in existential proxy battles in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Bahrain (against Hezbollah ally and U.S. foe, Iran).

What stands out, instead, is the European Union’s fuzzy position on Hezbollah. Despite U.S. insistence that the group in its entirely is a terrorist organization, the EU lists only Hezbollah’s “military wing” as such—and that designation was made only in 2013, when the Syrian conflict exploded and nations started taking hard sides in the Middle East. The “military wing” caveat is a critical distinction that reveals there are more layers to this onion than we see in State Department sound bites.

For Lebanon, Hezbollah is more than just the first Arab force to militarily expel the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) from its territory permanently. In Lebanon, Hezbollah is a political party too, with members of parliament and seats in the cabinet. The group runs a remarkable array of social services across the country, from subsidized schools, hospitals and clinics, to agricultural centers and environmental programs.

Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan introduced a more nuanced image of the group to a Washington think tank audience in 2009:

Hezbollah started out as purely a terrorist organization in the early ’80s and has evolved significantly over time. And now it has members of parliament, in the cabinet; there are lawyers, doctors, others who are part of the Hezbollah organization … And so, quite frankly, I’m pleased to see that a lot of Hezbollah individuals are in fact renouncing that type of terrorism and violence and are trying to participate in the political process in a very legitimate fashion.

Furthermore, Hezbollah’s appeal is not limited to Lebanon’s Shia community. Since 2006, Hezbollah has been in a political alliance with the country’s largest Christian-based political party, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), whose leader, General Michel Aoun, is currently president of Lebanon.

Aoun’s close association with Hezbollah is an irritant to Washington, and so the Trump administration is pushing to tighten the sanctions noose on Lebanon, too. In September, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to strengthen the 2015 Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act. Congressmen claim the new measures won’t harm regular Lebanese civilians, but there is a dangerous trend underway to punish anyone who supports Hezbollah’s civic, social, and religious initiatives.

This concern by the Lebanese is fully justified if you listen to State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Nathan A. Sales, who insists:

Money given to a terrorist organization, even for purportedly non-terroristic purposes, ends up assisting the group’s terroristic activities. If you give money to the so-called peaceful side of an organization, money is fungible. And so that frees up resources that can then be used for malign activities that have nothing to do with charitable work or other purposes that we might regard as legitimate. And so it’s important for us to maintain that distinction as false. The distinction between political and terroristic is false.

The Lebanese resistance was formed in reaction to Israel’s illegal invasion and occupation of Lebanon. As Kerry says, that’s where Hezbollah’s real fight is—with Israel.

Washington should leave it to the two to duke it out. This is not America’s fight. Hezbollah has saved Lebanon—and much of the Levant—not once, but twice, from bloody aggressions. In fact, maybe I’ll take them out to lunch in Beirut and pay the bill. I daresay that could be regarded as a financial contribution to Hezbollah, and that would make me a “terrorist,” too.

Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Mideast geopolitics, based in Beirut.

israel’s Geopolitical Gut Check, A once favorable balance of power has shifted, clipping Tel Aviv’s wings.


Israel’s Geopolitical Gut Check

A once favorable balance of power has shifted, clipping Tel Aviv’s wings.

Tel Aviv has had a bad few weeks. A once favorable regional balance of power has suddenly shifted in a direction that clips Israel’s wings—all while adversaries on its borders are making swift strategic gains.

At the core of the issue is Israel’s obsession with Iranian ascendancy in the region. The 2015 nuclear deal that ended the Islamic Republic’s isolation was a real setback for the Israeli establishment, but what really hit home this summer was a steady succession of political and military victories for the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah allies.

So Israel’s power players headed to the United States and Russia to try to claw back some lost leverage on the ground.

They returned from Washington empty-handed, unable to wrest guarantees on keeping Iranian and allied troops out of southern Syria, where the U.S. and Russia in July established a de-escalation zone near Israel’s border.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s consultations with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi went nowhere too. Russian accounts of those talks describe a highly “agitated” and “emotional” Netanyahu who was told in no uncertain terms by a calm Putin: “Iran is Russia’s strategic ally in the Middle East.” To Netanyahu, Putin offered what must have comparatively felt like crumbs: “Israel is also an important partner of Russia in the region.”

The Israeli prime minister and other senior officials went on the offensive after that meeting, promising to “defend ourselves by all means” from Iran’s ambitions in Syria, and threatening military attacks on Assad’s “palace in Damascus.”

But the Russians clearly hadn’t forgotten that shortly after Netanyahu’s last encounter with Putin in March, Israel launched strikes against Russia’s Syrian ally, one of which came dangerously near Russian troops.

This time around, it seems Putin was set on drawing new red lines with Israel. In the aftermath of the Netanyahu meeting, the Russians announced the establishment of a unified air defense system with Syria, “capable of destroying targets within a range of up to 400 kilometers at an altitude of up to 35 kilometers.”

Yet the Israeli threats haven’t ceased. So, what explains the panic in Israel right now? And why has it escalated so suddenly?

Lebanon: Last week, Hezbollah, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) closed a chapter on the years-long occupation of eastern Lebanon by ISIS and the Al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra terrorist groups. The three forces launched a stunning military offensive that took out al-Nusra in a mere six days and ISIS in nine—including time spent in negotiations.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah dubbed the successful anti-terrorism operation “the Second Liberation”—the first being Lebanon’s liberation from Israeli occupation forces in 2000.

In the years leading up to this battle, Hezbollah and the LAF have been coordinating anti-terrorism efforts in Lebanon, an unprecedented collaboration that has outraged both Israelis and Americans. The U.S. provides training and weaponry for the LAF but considers the Lebanese resistance group a terrorist organization, even though Hezbollah is part of Lebanon’s cabinet and parliament.

The liberation of the strategic Lebanese-Syrian border area has not only freed up Hezbollah forces for deployment on other frontlines—including its southern border with Israel—but importantly, now represents the first full Syrian border reclaimed by the SAA from terrorists since the start of the Syrian crisis.

“The enemy [Israel],” announced Nasrallah after the fight, “is crying over its orphans and is acknowledging the defeat of its project and friends in Syria.”

Syria: The Hezbollah leader may have a point. Outside of ISIS’s stronghold in eastern Syria where it has lost thousands of square kilometers to the SAA and its allies, the terror group occupies one small remaining territory near the border of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. That area in southwestern Syria is also home to several other militant groups, most prominently al-Nusra, whose injured fighters have been tended to by Israeli medics for much of the conflict.

The Israelis, who have reportedly launched dozens of strikes against Syrian allied forces during this conflict, have rarely attacked al-Nusra or ISIS. Israel’s Defense Minister in 2016, Moshe Yaalon, made headlines when he said: “In Syria, if the choice is between Iran and the Islamic State, I choose the Islamic State.” Some in the Israeli policy community have supported this line—one recent report from an Israeli think tank entitled “The Destruction of Islamic State is a Strategic Mistake” advocates for keeping ISIS around to “hamper Iran’s quest for regional hegemony.” Given Israel’s fixation with keeping Iran’s influence contained, it’s perhaps no surprise that Syria’s recent spate of victories against ISIS have set off alarm bells in Tel Aviv.

To compound Israel’s setbacks, the U.S.-Russian southern de-escalation agreement has now halted the militants’ ability to fight Syrian allied forces around Quneitra (Syrian Golan), Daraa, and As-Suwayda—areas now policed by Syria’s Russian allies.

Jordan: In Amman, a joint de-escalation monitoring center for this southern zone has just been launched, which will likely force the Jordanians to secure and normalize their northern border with Syria. Earlier this summer, the Jordanians had been on board a Saudi-led (and Israeli-supported) alliance of mostly Sunni Muslim states that sought to squash Iran’s regional influence. At the time, Jordan had loudly insisted on the removal of Iranian-backed fighters from its border with Syria. But today, that “Arab NATO” alliance has collapsed amidst a heated inter-GCC dispute, and Jordanians appear to be recalibrating their regional stance to accept the “de-escalation zone” vision launched by Russia, Turkey, and of course, Iran.

The terms of the southern de-escalation agreement reached between the U.S. and Russia are secret, but the word is that there is no specific language that diminishes the role of Iran, Hezbollah and their allied militias in Syria.

This means Israel can no longer count on Islamist militants obstructing Syrian government control over the south. It also means that Jordan, which just last week re-opened its Trebil border crossing with Iraq, is now moving incrementally toward re-opening its Nasib border crossing with Syria. The commercial dividends of these two actions could contribute between $1-2 billion to Jordan’s depleted coffers—a healthy incentive for the Jordanians to play nice with Syria.

Turkey: Jordan’s political and security “diversification” comes directly on the back of a visit to Amman by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, once the most vocal regional critic of Bashar al-Assad, and a major supplier of weapons and Islamist fighters in the Syrian military theater.

Erdoğan is back in play with the Russians and Iranians after briefly toying with the Saudi “Arab NATO” project directed against Iran. Jordanian media reports even claim the Turkish president offered to coordinate mediation with Iran to smooth over Jordan’s lingering doubts about the de-escalation zone.

But what accounts for his transformation?

While Erdoğan has not explicitly embraced an Assad-ruled Syria or an active Iranian role south of his border, two urgent regional developments have softened his position and drawn him back into the Iranian-Russian orbit.

The first is the major political crisis engulfing the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, pitting Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain against Qatar. Like its Turkish ally, Qatar has been a leading supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and is pursuing a diversified foreign-policy agenda, which includes political and economic relations with Iran.

The GCC spat created a further divide within the region, which until recently consisted mainly of pro-Iran and pro-Saudi camps. Now, Turkey and Qatar form a third camp, and have sought to mitigate Saudi-UAE pressures by re-engaging with Iran and its allies.

The second impetus comes from Washington’s unrelenting support for the mostly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters in the north of Syria. Erdoğan has beseeched the Americans to abandon their support for these Kurds, who are primarily Syrian affiliates of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, a group considered a terrorist organization by both Ankara and Washington.

The Americans have ignored Erdoğan’s requests, even though the SDF has shown intent to occupy and federalize the entire north of Syria—from Iraq to the Mediterranean—an area spanning the length of the Turkish border.

On this issue, Ankara now shares common cause with Tehran, Baghdad, and Damascus—all are vehemently opposed to Kurdish national aspirations. This realignment takes place against the backdrop of a Kurdish referendum for independence in Iraq slated for late September, which all four capitals oppose. Israel, which has close ties to the Kurdish government in Erbil, is the only country to date that supports the referendum. Kurdistan is a matter of strategic interest for Tel Aviv. The establishment of Kurdish federal entities in Syria and Iraq, after all, would mean the partitioning and weakening of those Arab states. And importantly, Kurdish statelets in these areas can act as geographic buffers that impede Iran’s easy access to Israel’s borders.

So Turkey’s re-engagement with Iran and Russia not only contributes to the stability of the Syrian state, but also puts a spanner in the works of Israel’s goal of Kurdish independence.

Hamas: The “Resistance Axis” was once a club of four: Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas. But conflicting objectives in Syria drew Hamas out of the group—until now. New Hamas leadership has prioritized neutral relationships with all regional states, and has sought to reinstate relations and funding from the Islamic Republic.

Last week, Hamas’ politburo chief in Gaza, Yahya Senwar, announced: “Iran is the largest supporter of the Ezzedine al-Qassam brigades [Hamas’ military wing] in terms of financial support and support with weapons,” and expressed optimism that “the Syrian crisis shall end, which will open the horizons for restoring the relations with [Syria].”

For Israel, that means the rift between the Hamas-led Gaza Strip and Iran has ended, and weapons and aid will flow back to the Palestinian resistance group unimpeded.

Events on Israel’s western, northern and eastern borders have suddenly—in a few short weeks—scuttled the geopolitical balance that once favored Tel Aviv. Just a few years ago, Syria was disintegrating, Iraq was fragmenting, Lebanon was over-extended, and Gaza struggled alone.

Today, the likelihood of Iran enjoying a contiguous land corridor between its borders and the occupied Golan territory is greater than ever before. The Resistance Axis has gained tremendous military experience in the past six years in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon—and most importantly, has done so by coordinating troops, intelligence and battle plans from a single command center, for the first time in its history as an alliance. Furthermore, this axis now enjoys international political cover from two permanent UN Security Council members, Russia and China. The Russians now have significant military experience alongside three members of this axis, and the Chinese are eager to expand their economic vision into those West Asian states, with Iran as a key hub for oil and gas pipelines.

As these countries move forward to extinguish regional terrorism and reconstruct their infrastructure and societies, the Israelis will be left out in the cold. But while Israel’s options dwindle, its military plans seem to keep getting more attention. It’s the one option—the stick—that the Israelis gravitate to most easily, and a war of aggression against Lebanon and Gaza, or strikes against Syria, are not out of the question.

Hezbollah continues to demand the return of the remaining Israeli-occupied Lebanese territories, the Shebaa Farms and Kfarshuba hills, and Syria, once back on its feet, will do the same with the Golan. Both will do so from a strengthened position in this new Middle East. Yet the question remains: Does Israel recognize its new environment?

Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Mideast geopolitics, based in Beirut.

U.S. Buildup All About Iran

Requiring an American wedge between Syria and Iraq.

DAMASCUSAs the drive to push ISIS out of its remaining territories in Syria and Iraq rapidly advances, the U.S. and its allied forces have entrenched themselves in the southeastern Syrian border town of al-Tanaf, cutting off a major highway linking Damascus to Baghdad.

Defeating ISIS is Washington’s only stated military objective inside Syria. So what are those American troops doing there, blocking a vital artery connecting two Arab allied states in their own fight against terrorism?

“Our presence in al-Tanaf is temporary,” says Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the Combined Joint Task Force of Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS, via phone from Baghdad. “Our primary reason there is to train partner forces from that area for potential fights against ISIS elsewhere…and to maintain security in that border region.”

Dillon adds for emphasis: “Our fight is not with the (Syrian) regime.”

But since May 18, when U.S. airstrikes targeted Syrian forces and their vehicles approaching al-Tanaf, American forces have shot down two Syrian drones and fired on allied Syrian troops several times, each time citing “self-defense.” In that same period, however, it doesn’t appear that the al-Tanaf-based U.S.-backed militants have even once engaged in combat with ISIS.

Bouthaina Shaaban, political and media advisor to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is left bemused by that rhetoric:

“When asked what they’re doing in the south of Syria, they say they’re there for their ‘national security,’ but then they object to the movements of the Syrian army – inside Syria?”

She has a point. Under international law, any foreign troop presence inside a sovereign state is illegal unless specifically invited by the recognized governing authority – in this case, Assad’s government, the only Syrian authority recognized by the UN Security Council. Uninvited armies try to circumvent the law by claiming that Syria is “unable or unwilling” to fight ISIS and the threat to international security it poses. But “unwilling and unable” is only a theory, and not law, and since the Russians entered the Syrian military theater to ostensibly fight ISIS with the Syrians, that argument thins considerably.

Colonel Dillon acknowledges the point but argues that the Syrian army

“only just showed up recently in the area. If they can show that they are capable of fighting and defeating ISIS, then we don’t have to be there and that is less work for us and would be welcome.”

It’s not clear who made the U.S. arbiters of such a ruling. Syria’s fight against ISIS has picked up considerably in recent months, since four “de-escalation zones” were established during May negotiations in Astana among Russia, Turkey, and Iran. Reconciliation agreements among government forces and some militant groups in those zones – and the transfer of other militants to the northern governorate of Idlib – has meant that Syrian allied forces have been able to move their attention away from strategic areas in the west and concentrate on the ISIS fight in the east of the country.

An April 2017 report by IHS Markit, the leading UK security and defense information provider, asserts that the Islamic State fought Syrian government forces more than any other opponent over the past 12 months.

“Between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2017,” says the organization, “43 percent of all Islamic State fighting in Syria was directed against President Assad’s forces, 17 against the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the remaining 40 percent involved fighting rival Sunni opposition groups – in particular, those who formed part of the Turkey-backed Euphrates Shield coalition.”

In other words, during the period when IS territorial losses were most significant, Syrian forces fought ISIS more than twice as often as U.S.-backed ones.

An American Wedge Between Syria and Iraq

So what’s with the continued U.S. presence in al-Tanaf, an area where there is no ISIS presence and where the Syrian army and its allies have been making huge progress against their militant Islamist opponents?

The above map commissioned by the author.

If you look at the map commissioned by the author above, there are approximately three main highway crossings from major Syrian centers into Iraq. The northern-most border highway is currently under the control of U.S.-backed Kurdish forces who seek to carve out an independent statelet called Western Kurdistan.

The Homs-to-Baghdad highway in the middle of the map cuts through ISIS-besieged Deir ez-Zor, where up to 120,000 civilians have been protected by some 10,000 Syrian troops since ISIS stormed its environs in 2014. While that border point to Iraq is currently blocked by the terror group, Syrian forces are advancing rapidly from the west, north, and south to wrest the region back from ISIS control.

The Damascus-to-Baghdad highway in the south of the country, which allied Syrian forces have largely recaptured from militants, could have easily been the first unobstructed route between Syria and Iraq. Until, of course, U.S.-led forces entrenched themselves in al-Tanaf and blocked that path.

The Syrians cleared most of the highway this year, but have been inhibited from reaching the border by a unilaterally-declared “deconfliction zone” established by U.S.-led coalition forces.

“It was agreed upon with the Russians that this was a deconfliction zone,” says CJTF spokesman Dillon.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov begs to differ: “I don’t know anything about such zones. This must be some territory, which the coalition unilaterally declared and where it probably believes to have a sole right to take action. We cannot recognize such zones.”

Since regime-change plans fell flat in Syria, Beltway hawks have been advocating for the partitioning of Syria into at least three zones of influence – a buffer zone for Israel and Jordan in the south, a pro-U.S. Kurdish entity along the north and north-east, and control over the Syrian-Iraqi border.

But clashes with Syrian forces along the road to al-Tanaf have now created an ‘unintended consequence’ for the U.S.’s border plans. Syrian allied troops circumvented the al-Tanaf problem a few weeks ago by establishing border contact with Iraqi forces further north, thereby blocking off access for U.S. allies in the south. And Iraqi security forces have now reached al-Waleed border crossing, on Iraq’s side of the border from al-Tanaf, which means U.S.-led forces are now pinned between Iraqis and Syrians on the Damascus-Baghdad road.

When Syrians and Iraqis bypassed the al-Tanaf area and headed northward to establish border contact, another important set of facts was created on the ground. U.S. coalition forces are now cut off – at least from the south of Syria – from fighting ISIS in the northeast. This is a real setback for Washington’s plans to block direct Syrian-Iraqi border flows and score its own dazzling victory against ISIS. As Syrian forces head toward Deir ez-Zor, U.S.-backed forces’ participation in the battle to liberate that strategic area will now be limited to the Kurd-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from the north, while Syrian forces have established safe passage from the north, south, west – and potentially from the east, with the aid of allied Iraqi forces.

Why Washington Wants That Border

Re-establishing Syrian control over the highway running from Deir ez-Zor to Albu Kamal and al-Qaim is also a priority for Syria’s allies in Iran. Dr. Masoud Asadollahi, a Damascus-based expert in Middle East affairs explains: “The road through Albu Kamal is Iran’s favored option – it is a shorter path to Baghdad, safer, and runs through green, habitable areas. The M1 highway (Damascus-Baghdad) is more dangerous for Iran because it runs through Iraq’s Anbar province and areas that are mostly desert.”

If the U.S. objective in al-Tanaf was to block the southern highway between Syria and Iraq, thereby cutting off Iran’s land access to the borders of Palestine, they have been badly outmaneuvered. Syrian, Iraqi, and allied troops have now essentially trapped the U.S.-led forces in a fairly useless triangle down south, and created a new triangle (between Palmyra, Deir ez-Zor, and Albu Kamal) for their “final battle” against ISIS.

“The Americans always plan for one outcome and then get another one that is unintended,” observes Iran’s new envoy to Syria, Ambassador Javad Turk Abadi.

He and others in Damascus remain optimistic that the border routes long been denied to regional states will re-open in short order.

“Through the era of the Silk Road, the pathway between Syria, Iran, and Iraq was always active – until colonialism came to the region,” explains Turk Abadi.

In the same way that Western great powers have always sought to keep Russia and China apart, in the Middle East, that same divide-and-rule doctrine has been applied for decades to maintaining a wedge between Syria and Iraq.

“In the history of the last half century, it was always prevented for Syria and Iraq to get close, to coordinate. When (former Syrian president) Hafez al-Assad and (former Iraqi president) Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr almost reached a comprehensive agreement, Saddam Hussein made a coup d’etat and hung all the officers who wanted rapprochement with Syria,”says Shaaban, who has just published a book on Hafez Assad’s dealings with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Saddam then launched an eight-year war against the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the latter lost road access through Iraq for more than two decades.

In early 2003, U.S. troops invaded Iraq, deposed Saddam, and occupied the country for the next nine years. During that era, Iranian airplanes were often ordered down for inspections, instigated by U.S. occupation forces interested in thwarting Iran’s transfer of weapons and supplies to the Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah and other allies.

By the time U.S. troops exited Iraq in late 2011, the Syrian conflict was already under way, fully armed, financed, and supported by several NATO states and their Persian Gulf allies.

“When those borders are re-opened,” says Asadollahi, “this will be the first time Iran will have a land route to Syria and Palestine” – though others point out that the Iranians have always found ways to transport goods undetected.

“Our army is now almost at the border and Iraqis are at their border – and we are not going to stop,” insists Shaaban.

Syrian and Iraqi forces have not yet checkmated American forces operating in their military theaters. There is still talk of an escalation that may pit the United States against Syria’s powerful Russian ally, a dangerous development that could precipitate a regional or global war.

But in Baghdad, the U.S.-led coalition spokesman Colonel Dillon struck a slightly more nuanced tone from the more belligerent threats sounded in Washington:

“We’re not in Syria to grab land. If the Syrian regime can show they can defeat ISIS, then we’re fine with that. The Waleed border crossing is a good sign that shows these capabilities. We are open to secure borders both on the Syrian and Iraqi side. We’re not there with the intent to block anything, we’re there to defeat ISIS and train forces for that.”

The fact is, US-trained militants in the al-Tanaf garrison are not fighting ISIS today, and they suffered a “crippling defeat” in June 2016 when they last launched a major offensive against the terror group, 200 miles from al-Tanaf. Factoring in geography, balance of field forces and momentum, it is implausible that US troops and their proxies on the southern Syrian-Iraqi border can achieve their stated objectives. It is time for them to surrender their positions to the Syrian state.

Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Mideast geopolitics, based in Beirut.

Qatar: Center Stage in a World at War?

Doha, Qatar

[Ed note – An interesting analysis on the dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and its potential for engulfing the rest of the Middle East and exploding into World War III, has been posted by blogger Green Crow. The piece is written by “James” and reposted from his Winter Patriot blog. Qatar, in his analysis, sees US influence in the Middle East waning and is pivoting toward Iran, Syria, and Russia, and he notes that both Iran and Russia have sent food shipments to Qatar in order to break the blockade imposed by the Saudis. Turkey is now openly siding with the Qataris as well–and this also makes perfect sense. US support for the Kurds in Syria–with the US seemingly now moving in the direction of setting up a de facto Kurdish state–would of course have to be a major, MAJOR “red line” for Turkey. This of course puts two NATO allies, the US and Turkey, at odds with each other. Bottom line: there is a major shift in alliances occurring.

James, the writer, mentions a Cross Talk program which aired June 14 in which Sharmine Narwani was guest and gave some valuable perspectives on the situation. You can find that program here, but there is also a more recent Cross Talk Program, here, that features Alexander Mercouris, that also discusses the further evolving situation. The program, which aired June 23, is entitled “Rushing to War?” Basically, what it comes down to is that the ISIS proxies seem to be headed toward collapse. So what happens with the proxies are finally defeated with the major powers gathered in Syria left alone staring each other in the face? Does that make a major war more likely? This is the question explored on the show. ]

By Greencrow

There have been some very good analyses of the Qatar crisis on the Alternative Internet in the past few days. My instincts tell me that this crisis might just be the one that puts the globalist neocon ziofascist push towards WWIII, which has been stalled due to some genius “checkmating” by Russia, over the top.  In my opinion, Saudi Arabia and its allies are, just like the ISIS terrorists, acting as USrael’s proxy in the Middle East…just on a grander scale.  In the guest column below, James fromWinter Patriot Blog has a very comprehensive and well presented assessment of what is going on in Qatar. I have added bolding and emphasis, and will have more thoughts in comments to follow…

Continued here

Qatar Is Centre Stage In A World At War – UPDATED

Update at the foot of this article.

A few weeks ago, the Saudis exploded in their rhetoric against Qatar. They were apoplectic. What on earth could have caused this sudden flood of vitriol? Obviously, it was not the fact that Qatar was funding terrorists in Syria as this had been an open secret for years. Plus, it was also an open secret that the Saudi’s themselves are funding terrorism and even supplying many of the terrorists. The Qataris must have been threatening in a major way either or both of the two things the Saudis hold dear – their money and their political power. The former is increasingly dependent on the latter. Sharmine Narwani appeared on RT’s Crosstalk to talk about the Saudi/Qatar conflict. She was definitely the smartest one in the room but no one was really listening to her. In answer to Peter Lavelle’s first question, she revealed that the terror groups supported by the Qatar/Turkish alliance had gone very quiet in the last month and this had allowed the Syrian govt forces to concentrate on ISIS which is directly backed by the Saudis and the UAE. Consequently, ISIS is in disarray.

Clearly, to this writer at least, a deal had been done between Qatar, Turkey and Syria. Russia would have to be on-board, too. This has massive implications for the whole world. Narwani also thought that the Saudis were not above attacking Qatar and it might be imminent. One reason, as Sharmine Narwani states, may be the fact that Qatari backed terrorists in Syria have been fighting directly with Saudi backed jihadis. This benefits Turkey as well as Syria.

View the Crosstalk segment:

Turkey is pissed that the US is obviously trying to set up a Kurdish state in the north of Syria and barring Turkish military involvement. This evolving Kurdish state-let will inevitably threaten Turkish sovereignty. But what about Qatar?


Qatar must be able to see which way the wind is blowing in the Syrian conflict and realise that they are not going to get their gas pipeline through Syrian territory after all. The LNG market, from which they get the bulk of their revenue from, is now oversupplied (from the US and Australian sources amongst others) and forcing prices downward. Qatar’s income is declining and it needs to pipe its gas to a major market to stay competitive. Piped gas is much cheaper to deliver and distribute than LNG. The only option is to talk to the Iranians. It also makes major business sense to do so.

Qatar and Iran share the largest gas field in the world and it is largely undeveloped. It makes sense to develop this field together and market the gas together as well. With Iran as a partner, the way is then open for Qatar to negotiate with the Russians and the Syrians concerning pipeline routes. The way is also open to ensure the future cash flow of the Qatari government and its royal household. Russian technology and Chinese finance will make it all happen. I would estimate that the gas sales will be denominated in Yuan and Rubles.


The Americans will get (are getting) their knickers in a bunch but they are rapidly losing influence in the Middle East, as Sharmine said. She was trying to elucidate that the Middle East countries are looking to rearrange their alliances and strategies to take this into account when she was cut off by Peter Lavelle.  The US is losing the battle to maintain the US dollar as the undisputed world currency and this deal will hasten its demise. The world wide supremacy of the US dollar is what their empire is based on. No dollar supremacy equals no US political supremacy and this will severely curtail their effective military supremacy.

The bankers that control the US, UK and Israel maintain their power by controlling energy supplies and indebting everybody to keep them relatively poor. Every other nation on earth will benefit from breaking this lock on power and enjoy growing industrialisation, trade and prosperity. This is being brought into stark contrast in the Middle East starting with Qatar. Qatar can stay with the US and slowly strangle itself economically or it can take a risk and make a break for economic freedom and prosperity.


Saudi Arabia has ambitions of leading the Islamic world. It has used its gigantic income from oil sales to invest in religious indoctrination around the world and to bribe countries near and far. It has bought its way onto, if you can believe it, the UN Commission on the Status of Women and now heads the UN Human Rights Council. This is what money can do; but you need lots of money and a continuing supply of it. As the wealthiest oil exporter in the Middle East, it has dominated the Gulf Co-operation Council which, of course, includes Qatar.

Saudi Arabia’s income stream is declining and is needing to leverage what political power it has to gain more and to cover naked grabs of resources such as those in Yemen. But it needs the GCC to act as this lever. Qatar is undoing the Saudis dominance of the GCC. The Saudis future is at stake and with the Saudi royal house doubling down with the appointment of Mohammed bin Salman as Crown Prince, we can expect more military adventurism, i.e. wars, to hasten this decline and perhaps eventual demise.


There is the risk of an armed attack from the Saudis but Qatar has allies. Turkey is sending troops to Qatar. This is no small matter. Turkey has the largest military in the Middle East. Turkey is also making it clear that it has a major interest in the success of whatever deal Qatar is striking with Syria Iran and Russia. Iran and Russia have immediately sent food shipments to Qatar after the announcement of the blockade by Saudi Arabia and the UAE and Bahrain. It would seem from the co-ordinated response that the blockade was anticipated. Presumably, more is anticipated by this ad hoc alliance assisting Qatar.

With the original Qatar/Saudi pipeline dead in the water, Turkey would be amenable to a Qatar/Iran/Syrian pipeline going through Turkey. I’m sure their only demand would be that it not go through any Kurdish territory. Given that none of the other partners want the US/Israeli controlled and unreliable Kurds involved, that won’t be a problem. So the pipeline would have to go through the Aleppo corridor.

It would also need to go through south/eastern Syria where the US is now fighting at the risk of starting WW3 with the Russians. Now we see what the stakes are for the US and they are very high. If the gas pipeline goes through Turkey it will inevitably hook up with the Turkstream gas pipeline that will be Russian built and owned. Turkstream with travel through south eastern Europe; through the impoverished (thanks to the US and Germany) nations there. Turkey will become the gas hub between the suppliers in the Middle East, Russia and the Caucasus and on to the customers in Europe. Turkey has manoeuvred for a long time to be in this position. Much income and political influence to be gained and none of it dependent on the US!


Turkstream will be a lifeline to Serbia and Hungary. A branch line could easily extend to Greece and on to Italy. Europe’s prosperity will be massively enhanced with a secure, plentiful and cheap energy supplied from Iran, Qatar and Russia. German/EU and US dominance over southern and eastern Europe will evaporate as will US power. The Islamic mass migration may well stop, as well.


In the immediate term, Russia will get what it has been aiming for and that is a ‘Gas OPEC’. Russia together with Iran and Qatar control the bulk of the world’s gas reserves and will set the price thereafter. Europe (Germany) will have to kick the US to the kerb and come to its senses regarding Russia and cease with the sanctions and resume normal bilateral trade arrangements. Peace and prosperity for Russia.

In the longer term, Russia will be able to see the back of the US in the Middle East and all the wars it brings with it and Russia will be left as the dominant power on its southern flank.


Iran is being fast-tracked to join the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) which is a de-facto military alliance between Russia and China and now Pakistan and India. The window of opportunity to attack Iran is finally closing, if it has not already closed. Thus Iran will have the US and its bankers finally off its back and will be able to resume full trade with the rest of the world. No more sanctions and it can resume its path to peace and prosperity through selling oil and gas wherever it wants and relieve its population of the constant stress of the threat of imminent war.


There are other players involved, too; China and Pakistan. There have been long term negotiations between Iran, Pakistan and China to pipe gas through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. No doubt, the Chinese would welcome Qatar as a partner in this project as it would also allow its influence to further spread into the other Gulf countries with their New Silk Road to follow.
Wherever the pipeline goes, so will roads and other infrastructure. The new infrastructure, together with the ready supply of energy, will assure development along the route and surrounding territory. This would be a massive boon for the Balochistan area and would quell the political unrest (sponsored by the CIA) that has cost both Pakistan and Iran, not to mention the Balochs. Exactly the same applies to the North-West Territories in the north of Pakistan.

No doubt the Pakistanis would like to be rid of the US which has bases on its territory and from which it launches aerial attacks against Pakistani territory at will. The list of benefits to multiple countries goes on and on but it won’t be smooth sailing. The US has been in decline for some years now but that hasn’t stopped it launching more wars and spreading terrorism and mayhem across the globe. This will continue. It is the nature of psychopathy to never give up; to always continue to do harm.

To get itself out of trouble over the centuries, the banking establishment, centered in London and New York, has started costly wars. They are now trying to do the same again in Syria and maybe soon in Qatar. We shall see soon enough.
Meanwhile I commend to you Pepe Escobar’s article at Sputnik where he talks about the implications of the SCO as well as the pipelines and the Qatari deal-

The West Can’t Smell What Eurasia is Cooking

Pepe is the ‘go-to’ man regarding pipelines. He was the first writer that I know of to seize their importance and ‘follow the pipelines’. He coined the term “Pipelineistan” and has written books about it.


Adam Garrie of The Duran has written an article outlining 13 demands that the Saudis have of Qatar. The list is not confirmed but “widely accepted” including by RT. Associated Press claims to have seen the document but AP is closely aligned with the Globalists, the Neocons and israel, but I repeat myself. So AP gives the list of demands credibility but because the Saudi govt has not confirmed it, it can shield itself from diplomatic criticism and back away from the “13 demands” at a later date if necessary.

Garrie notes that the demands are childish and he is right. This is what you get when you step on the toes big-time of psychopaths. They have the emotional maturity of 10 year olds. He also rightly notes that the demands cannot be complied with because they are extremely demeaning. This is intentional. Israel and the US routinely do the same when they want to start a war and this is precisely what Saudi Arabia is saying and wanting. ‘Either you stop with the alliance with Iran, Syria, Turkey and Russia or we will invade you. Israel and the US have to be onboard with this. And why wouldn’t they be? Their psychopathic dreams and political futures are equally at stake here as outlined above.”


So, there are a couple of deductions I would like to add to James’s excellent analysis.  He may have already made some of these points but I would like to emphasize the following in point form:

– Saudi Arabia and its allies are acting as proxies for USrael and the European Banksters that run their perpetual war for Profit global scam.

– They have definitely made the terms issued to Qatar “non negotiable“…to ensure a WWIII in the very short term…which will avoid their looming bankruptcy and (perhaps worse) geopolitical irrelevancy!

– Ultimately, just like everything else that has gone on in the Middle East for the past 15 years or more…this is aimed at Russia/China/Iran….but particularly Russia/Putin.  It will take every ounce of his chessmaster skills to outmaneuver the perps this time.  They’ve doubled down for “one final roll of the dice”…and Qatar is it.  Stay tuned.

Will U.S. Partition Syria?

Will U.S. Partition Syria?

By Sharmine Narwani

U.S. strategy seems to be shifting toward creating a buffer state between Iran and Israel.

May 13, 2017 “Information Clearing House” – BEIRUT—Given the rhetoric of most U.S. policymakers, one might conclude that the conflict in Syria is about establishing freedom and democracy in the Levantine state. But no genuine aspiration for democracy ever came from a line-up of allies that includes countries like Saudi Arabia, Israel, Qatar, and Turkey. Seen from the Middle East, American intervention here appears to be aimed at putting the last genuinely independent Arab state under Washington’s sphere of influence—and cutting off a key Iranian ally in the region.

Today, after six years of regime-change operations that failed to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and install a compliant regime in Damascus, the west’s strategy seems to be shifting toward partitioning Syria. Specifically, the new U.S. policy would seek to sever the unimpeded geographic line between Iran and Israel by creating a buffer entity that runs through Iraq and Syria.

But here’s the twist: in Syria’s northeast/east and in Iraq’s northwest/west, where the Islamic State once occupied a vast swathe of territory, ISIS has helped to enable this U.S. goal by delineating the borders of this future buffer zone.

The only question is which U.S. “asset” will rule that buffer zone once it is liberated from ISIS. Would it be Sunni Arabs of the sectarian variety? A declassified 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency report seemed to suggest this option when it confirmed U.S. and Western support for the establishment of a “Salafist Principality” on the Syrian-Iraqi border.

Or will it be a Kurdish-ruled zone? U.S.-Kurdish machinations have, after all, borne a similar Shia-thwarting buffer on Iran’s western border with Iraq, with the creation of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) headed by the famously opportunistic and corrupt Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masoud Barzani.

Either way, what transpired is this: ISIS occupied the areas flanking Syria and Iraq’s northern border. The U.S.-led coalition has had a presence in these territories for several years, without impairing ISIS control. At the right time, under U.S. cover, Kurds are moving in to “recapture” them.

Kurds constitute a minority in all these governorates, which is how the presence of ISIS became a valuable U.S./Kurdish strategic asset. ISIS’s invasion of these areas is delineating the borders of the new entity and depopulating it—creating an opportunity for Washington to champion the Kurds as the primary “liberating” force within those borders, after which Kurds can claim this territorial bounty.

“This is conquest masquerading as liberation,” says Assyrian writer Max Joseph, who explains how KDP Peshmerga forces disarmed Assyrian Christians and Yezidis two weeks before ISIS invaded in August 2014, then retreated from their promise to protect those populations just as ISIS entered Sinjar and the Nineveh Plains.

In the immediate aftermath of the ISIS invasion, Reuters quoted a KRG official saying: “Everyone is worried, but this is a big chance for us. ISIL gave us in two weeks what Maliki couldn’t give us in eight years.”

“By disarming and disabling communities who live in territories the Kurdish leadership have designs on controlling, then letting a ready-made aggressive foreign force invade and uproot native communities, forcing them to flee, KRG forces backed by Western airstrikes will be seen as ‘retaking’ land never even theirs,” explains Joseph.

Two years later, in July 2016, the KRG’s Peshmerga ministry gave credence to those claims by announcing that “Peshmerga forces will not withdraw from areas they have recaptured from the Islamic State.”

This is nothing less than an attempt to establish “Kurdistan,” a nation for the historically stateless Kurds, which has long-envisioned swallowing up parts of Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran.

Some context helps explain the current situation. The KDP-ruled Kurdish entity in Iraq currently governs vast areas stretching from Iran’s western border to the Turkish border, stopping short east of Mosul and Kirkuk (an oil-rich city it openly covets). But the KDP has aspirations that run through Mosul to the western province of Nineveh—the historic home of a Christian Assyrian population—which would create a contiguous line across the north of Iraq to the Syrian border.

Last week, the “Kurdistan” flag was hoisted above all government buildings in Kirkuk—a move deemed unconstitutional and opposed by local non-Kurdish leaders and the Iraqi government alike.

A Syrian-Kurdish Entity?

In Syria, one can see a picture developing that mirrors Iraq’s experiences with the Kurds, Americans, and ISIS. Under U.S. patronage, areas occupied by the terror group are allowed to be “recaptured” by Kurdish forces, with a smattering of subordinate Arab Sunni forces to lend broader legitimacy.

Kurdish-controlled territory now traverses much of Syria’s three northern governorates where Kurds remain a minority—Hasakah, Raqqa, and Aleppo—and has earned the wrath of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has sent in troops and Arab proxies to break this “Kurdish corridor,” placing him in direct confrontation with the objectives of Washington, his NATO ally.

The Kurdish Nationalist Party (PYD) and its military wing. the People’s Protection Units (YPG), have unilaterally declared Hasakah a federal Kurdish state, a designation that is unrecognized by the Syrian government and other states. But Kurds barely make up 40 percent of the governorate’s population, which consists of Assyrians, Arabs, Armenians, Turkmen, and other ethnic groups as well. Likewise, in Aleppo, the most populous of Syria’s 14 governorates, where 40 percent of Syrian Kurds reside, Kurds make up only 15 percent of the population and are a majority only in Afrin and Ayn al-Arab (Kobane).

Meanwhile, Kurdish nationalists identify all of Hasakah and northern Raqqa/ Aleppo as “Rojova”—or Western Kurdistan—even though significant Kurdish populations live outside these areas and significant non-Kurdish populations live within them. Furthermore, many of these Kurds are not of Syrian origin, but fled Turkey last century after several failed uprisings against that state. The entire Kurdish population of Syria amounts to about 10 percent (although figures are slightly disputed both upward and downward). Hundreds of thousands of Kurds have since fled the conflict in Syria for safer shores. And there is not a single contiguous line of Kurdish majority-populated areas from the northeast to northwest of Syria.

Yet the U.S. is storming ahead with Project Buffer State, erecting military bases left, right, and center, in violation of Syria’s sovereignty and international law. Various news reports claim the Pentagon and its 1,000 or so troops in Syria have established up to six bases in the north of the country—in the Rmelan region near the Iraqi border, in Qamishli (Hasakah), Kobane (Aleppo), and now in Tabqa, several dozen kilometers west of the ISIS capital of Raqqa.

But the American plan to storm Raqqa has stalled due to Turkey’s refusal to be excluded, and its objection to Syrian Kurdish involvement. Washington wants its Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) allies to liberate the city, but this group consists mainly of YPG Kurds who are aligned with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a Turkish and U.S.-designated terrorist group. The U.S. pretends these Kurdish militias are the only fighting force that can defeat ISIS. Never mind that the Syrian army and its allied troops have been defeating ISIS and al-Qaeda-affiliated militants around the country for years.

The inconvenient fact is, besides the Kurds—not all of whom back the U.S. project on the Syrian-Iraqi border—no forces have fought ISIS and other terrorist groups more successfully than the Syrian army and its Iranian, Russian, and Hezbollah allies.

By contrast, ISIS actually expanded and strengthened after the U.S.-led coalition began its strikes against the terror group. Recall ISIS trekking in plain sight across the Syrian border from Iraq to capture Palmyra—or tankers filled with ISIS oil crossing over to Turkey with nary a U.S. strike. It wasn’t until the Russian air force entered the fray and shamed the U.S. coalition that ISIS began to suffer some defeats. Washington had only really contained ISIS within the borders it was shaping, not struck any serious blows to the group.

After all, it is Washington’s awkward alliance in the region—Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Britain, France, Israel—that has supported the growth of ISIS and like-minded extremists. U.S. President Donald Trump even went so far as to accuse his predecessor Barack Obama of being “the founder of ISIS.”

Certainly, Obama watched as his Turkish NATO ally allowed ISIS freedom of movement across its borders and purchased its stolen oil in bulk. We also now know via email leaks that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was aware that U.S. anti-ISIS coalition allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar were funding ISIS.

Why would Washington tolerate allied support of the very terrorist group it claims to want to destroy? By portraying ISIS as the worst of all terror groups, al-Qaeda and its affiliates—by far the most efficient fighting force against the Syrian army and its allies—were able to fly under the radar to fight for regime change. Furthermore, a globally demonized ISIS has also provided justification for direct Western action that might otherwise have been impossible after “humanitarian interventions” lost their allure, post-Libya. Finally, this supposedly very dangerous ISIS was able to invade and occupy, for great lengths of time, territories on the Syrian-Iraqi border that would create the boundaries for a buffer state that could eventually be “liberated” and led by Western-controlled proxies.

Stealing Syria

If the U.S. forges ahead with plans to lead its Kurdish allies into the Raqqa battle it will risk further alienating Turkey. Don’t expect ISIS to be defeated, however. Instead, expect ISIS to be driven southward toward Deirezzor and other eastern points along Iraq’s border, where the terror group’s presence can act yet again as a U.S. strategic asset—specifically, by moving the fight away from Washington’s Kurdish project in the north and hindering the ability of Iraqi militias to cross the border in aid of Syrian troops.

That’s not such a leap. Deirezzor is where U.S. fighter jets bombed the Syrian army for an hour straight last September, killing over 100 Syrian forces. The strikes enabled ISIS to capture several strategic points around Deirezzor airport, which the Syrian state was dependent on to protect populations in the ISIS-besieged area. The Pentagon swore it was an error, the Syrians and Russians swore it was not.

Meanwhile, in Syria’s south, U.S.-backed militants, aided by Jordanians, Saudis, and the usual Western suspects,  are rallying their forces to expand the ground battle inside Syria.

Why the sudden surge of activity? Mainly because the Syrian government and its allies have, since the liberation of East Aleppo in January, succeeded in pushing back terrorists in key areas, regaining strategic territory, and striking reconciliation and ceasefire deals in other parts of the state.

“Western states with the United States at their head interfere in favor of the terrorists whenever the Syrian Arab Army makes a significant advance,” Assad observed in a recent interview.

But the U.S. overestimates its capabilities. With few troops on the ground, radical militants as allies, and pushback from Syria, Iran, Turkey, Russia, and Iraq, Washington will face a steep climb ahead.

In fact, all U.S. gains could be abruptly reversed with this one Kurdish card. Nothing is more likely to draw Syrians, Iraqis, Turks, and Iranians together than the threat of a Kurdish national entity that will seek to carve itself out of these four states. And as the U.S. tries to establish “self-rule” by its allies in the northeast of Syria, it will once again be confronted with the same crippling infighting that comes from foisting an un-organic leadership onto populations.

Syria will become an American quagmire. Washington simply cannot manage its partition plans with so few troops on the ground, surrounded by the terror forces it so recently spawned, as able adversaries chip away at its project. Stealing Syria will not be an easy trick.

Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Mideast geopolitics, based in Beirut.

This article was first published by The American Conservative

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Information Clearing House.

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What’s Really Happening in Syria: Who Started the War, Who Can You Trust to Tell the Truth?

A Consumer Fraud Lawyer’s Mini-Primer

Global Research, January 23, 2017
New Cold War 2 January 2017

The U.S./NATO line

If you try to follow events in the mainstream media (MSM), you may have noticed that they routinely refer to Syrian president Bashar al Assad as a “brutal dictator”. Assad is supposed to have responded to peaceful protests with repressive violence and by “killing his own people”. The U.S., UK, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar continue to maintain that “Assad must go”.

I disagree with all of that, as I’ll explain in this article.

I spent 25 years prosecuting lies in commerce for the attorneys general of New York and Oregon. I prepared this primer to help you cut through the lies and get at the truth about Syria.

It’s still quite possible that a nuclear war could arise from careless U.S./NATO confrontations with Russia in Syria. President-elect Trump has indicated he favors a cooperative relationship with Russia, but he will face continuing pressure from the Deep State, neocons, and apparently, the media, to continue the New Cold War that was initiated in Ukraine. And the demonization of Russian president Putin and of Russia itself has been going on for some time and shows no sign of letting up.1 So in addition to the suffering of the Syrian people, which has been horrific and continues as I write, the conflict in Syria also poses a serious threat to all of us.

Apart from this introduction and some other brief statements of my own, most of this article is a string of excerpts from the excellent work of other people I’ve come to trust and citations or links to sources for further information and analysis.

International law, morality, and the sovereignty of the peoplesyria-obama 2

Since Syria has not threatened the United States in any way, let alone attacked us, our government has no right to try to overthrow the Syrian government. The UN Charter prohibits pre-emptive aggression against other sovereign states unless the UN Security Council authorizes it. The United States signed the UN Charter, so as a treaty, it is the “Supreme Law of the Land” under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution. So the U.S. attempt to overthrow the government of Syria violates U.S. as well as international law.page1image21488 page1image21648

The effort to overthrow the Syrian government is also immoral, because of the suffering and death it has caused and because of its destabilizing effect, which causes even more suffering and death and has assisted the rise of ISIS.

The effort to overthrow Assad is an arrogant interference with the sovereignty of the Syrian people, who have a right to choose their own government. In this case, they have chosen their government overwhelmingly: Syria’s president Bashar al Assad is not only the democratically elected leader of his country but has at all times, both before the violence began and throughout the conflict, been immensely popular within Syria. This popularity would be impossible to explain if the violence that began in March 2011 was initiated by the government. I try to show here that the violence was initiated by elements who pushed aside peaceful protestors and committed a great many murders and then managed, through manipulation of the big media, to blame that on the Syrian government.

The Syrian government

Although the effort to overthrow the Syrian government is unlawful, many Americans seem to feel it’s okay to interfere with foreign governments that are said to oppress their own people. I don’t claim that the Syrian government is perfect, but again, it’s up to the Syrian people to choose their government.

Washington has a history of undermining and overthrowing governments that don’t play ball with U.S./Western corporations and investors. And Islamic fundamentalists like the Muslim Brotherhood, al Qaeda, ISIS, and others pose continuing threats to stability in the Middle East. So I’ve come to believe that a government in the Middle East may have to be authoritarian to some degree in order to stay in power. And in Syria there is tolerance for different viewpoints, religions and ethnicities, such that a certain amount of what might be called “repression” of some forms of dissent seems to be a fair trade-off, and one that most Syrians clearly prefer.

In the years before the present conflict began in 2011, the Syrian government tried to institute constitutional reforms, thus becoming less repressive. But that effort has been undermined by the attempt to overthrow it by force and violence.

Sectarian vs. secular government; not a civil war

A basic conflict is between those who want a sectarian (religious) government, which would also be repressive, in different ways, and a secular (nonreligious) government, such as Syria now has. The conflict in Syria has never been a war between competing Islamic sects, or even a civil war. Rather, it is a war waged by some Syrian rebels and a great many foreigners, who want to overthrow the legitimate government and, with it, Syria’s secular, inclusive and tolerant society and to establish a radical Islamic government and society. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and the U.S. itself have been backing those extremists as part of their effort to dominate the Middle East and control its energy resources.

By the way, I’m now 70, but I still remember what it felt like to be 12 years old. Wait – what does that have to do with the war on Syria, and this article? My answer may be what it’s all about, from the viewpoint of Syrians, most of whom have remained in Syria, despite the war.

In late September, a U.S.-Russia agreement called for the supposedly “moderate rebels” in Syria to separate themselves from al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front (sometimes called al Qaeda’s Syrian “franchise”. (Al Qaeda, as you may recall, is the organization formerly led by Osama bin Laden that is said to have brought down the Twin Towers in New York). The U.S. and Russia would then cooperate in attacking the Nusra Front and ISIS (also known as ISIL, or Daesh).

Unless you’re a terrorist, what’s not to like about such an agreement? Well, the problem was that the “moderate rebels” refused to follow the U.S.-Russia agreement and separate from the terrorists, and instead renewed their alliance with them. In particular, Nour al-Din al-Zinki– reportedly one of the largest factions in Aleppo–said they were joining a broad alliance dominated by the Nusra Front.

If you’ve followed me this far, you’re probably stillwond ering what this has to do with remembering what it’s like to be 12 years old. The connection is this: Nour al-Din al-Zinki recently filmed themselves taunting and then beheading a 12-year-old boy.

I’ve seen one of the photos of the boy circulated by al-Zinki, and the image haunts me. He doesn’t even look 12 years old; I would guess 10 or 11. He has what looks like intra-venous tubing hanging from one arm; I understand he’d been receiving medical treatment when he was kidnapped. He was taunted by a group of men, who then laid him face-down in the back of a pickup truck, tied his hands behind his back, and as he whimpered, one of them ran a large knife across his throat and cut off his head.

I couldn’t make such a thing up, and I wouldn’t if I could. My nightmares are not that bad. But these al-Zinki guys – or should I say, monsters, or devils – not only did all this but made a video of themselves doing it and reveled in their atrocity.

Imagine, if you will, being captured, taunted and beheaded by demons two or three times your size. You can read about it, get a link to the group’s You Tube video, and see a screenshot from that at https://consortiumnews.com/2016/07/21/us-backed-syrian-moderates-behead-12-year- old/.

The photo that haunts me shows the boy closer up. It’s posted in CIA Rebels Behead Kid And Other U.S. Successes in Syria by Moon of Alabama, 19 July 2016, at http://www.moonofalabama.org/2016/07/cia-rebels-behead-kid-and-other-recent-us-successes- in-syria.html.

So here’s what I think: Most Syrians, as I mentioned, have stayed in Syria, seeking the protection of their government and army. They want to maintain their tolerant, secular society. But as that’s being shredded by jihadist violence and mayhem, they’re also terrified that their country will be taken over by ghouls like the al-Zinki jihadists who beheaded that boy, and that they and their families and loved ones will then face similar fates.

Some of them want government reform. But they don’t back the terrorists to get it. In fact, they’re glad to see those Russian planes in the sky, invited by their government, and they back the Syrian Arab Army and Bashar Assad. Many probably think Assad and the army are being a little too nice to the terrorist opposition that has invaded their country.  page3image28080

You won’t know what to make of this suggestion, if you think most Syrians are trying to get out of their country and go to Europe. Media sensationalism and inadequate reporting, or suppression of the truth, about the “immigrant crisis” faced by many European countries may give you that impression. But in fact, as reported by Tim Anderson (in The Dirty War on Syria, Chapter 14), most Syrians have chosen to remain in Syria under the protection of their government and Army:

… The online ‘war of maps’ miss this[:] When commentators [speak] of how much ‘territory’ one or other Islamist group controlled, they generally [do] not observe that the Government [has] maintained control of the great majority of the populated areas and most of the displaced population sought refuge in those government controlled cities. By 2015 blackouts and shortages were worse, but schools, health centres, sports facilities were functioning. While life was hardly normal, everyday life did carry on. People were surviving, and resisting. This reality was hardly visible in the western media, which has persistently spread lies about the character of the conflict. In particular, they have tried to hide NATO’s backing for the extremist groups, while trumpeting the advances of those same groups and ignoring the Syrian Army’s counter-offensives.
Fact check one: there never were any ‘moderate rebels’. A … genuine political reform movement was displaced by a Saudi-backed Islamist insurrection, over March- April 2011. … Years later ordinary Syrians call all these groups ‘Daesh’ (ISIS), ‘terrorists’ or ‘mercenaries’, not bothering with the different brand names. … Genocidal statements by ‘moderate rebel’ leaders underline the limited difference between the genocidal ‘moderates’ and the genocidal extremists. FSA leader Lamia Nahas wrote: ‘the more arrogant Syria’s minorities become I become more certain that there should be a holocaust to exterminate them from existence and I request [God’s] mercy upon Hitler who burned the Jews of his time and Sultan Abdul-Hamid who exterminated the Armenians’ (The Angry Arab 2015). … The genocidal fervour of these ‘moderates’ is no different than that of Nusra or ISIS. The character of the armed conflict has always been between an authoritarian but pluralist and socially inclusive state, and Saudi-style sectarian Islamists, acting as proxy armies for the big powers.

Fact check two: almost all the atrocities blamed on the Syrian Army have been committed by western-backed Islamists, as part of their strategy to attract more foreign military backing. Their claims are repeated by the western media, fed by partisan Islamist sources and amplified by embedded ‘watchdogs’, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The Syrian Army has indeed executed captured terrorists, and the secret police continue to detain and probably mistreat those suspected of collaborating with terrorists. But this is an army which enjoys very strong public support. Syrian people know their enemy and back their Army. The armed gangs, on the other hand, openly boast of their atrocities.

Then who started the war?

Determining how the initial disturbances occurred, in March 2011, and grew into the present conflict is complicated by the fact that at first, it was not always clear who was engaging in violence. The government tried to downplay the violence so as to maintain order and the morale of the Syrian Arab Army, as many of the first victims were Syrian soldiers.

Who can you trust to tell the truth?

All this raises the question of whom to believe. Those trying to overthrow the Syrian government have waged almost incredibly sophisticated and effective propaganda warfare right from the beginning, so there is conflicting “evidence” on many of the critical events. But I believe a great deal of the “evidence” dished out by the mainstream media was actually fabricated by the terrorists. More on that further below.

I have identified sources that seem to me credible, for example, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.; Australian professor Tim Anderson; commentator and analyst Sharmine Narwani (all, and others, quoted below); and Father Frans van der Lugt, a Dutch Jesuit priest who was murdered in Homs, Syria in early 2014.3 Father van der Lugt wrote in January 2012:

Most of the citizens of Syria do not support the opposition. Even a country like Qatar [which had spent billions to finance foreign terrorists in Syria] has stated this following an opinion survey. Therefore, you also cannot say that this is a popular uprising. The majority of people are not part of the rebellion and certainly not part of the armed rebellion. What is occurring is, above all, a struggle between the army and armed Sunni groups that aim to overturn the Alawite regime and take power.

“From the start the protest movements were not purely peaceful. From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.4


I’m also inclined to believe some of the evidence I rely on here because of the similarity with situations I know of elsewhere. For example, I studied the coup in Ukraine in some detail and am persuaded that the snipers firing in Maidan Square were provocateurs who shot both police and protesters in order to foment more violence. (I wrote about this, and the Ukraine situation more generally, at www.healingjustice.wordpress.com.) So when I see claims of similar conduct in Syria, it has a plausibility based in part on how it seems to follow the same pattern the U.S. has used to destabilize and overthrow governments in other countries.5

The current situation and articles reporting and discussing it, are presented at the end of this article. But first:


U.S. interference in the domestic affairs of Syria began in 1949. The details are reported in an excellent article by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Mr. Kennedy provides a great many important facts and comments and also identifies many of his sources, which I skip here for the sake of brevity. I quote only a few paragraphs for historical background and context.

Mr. Kennedy is no fan of Bashar al Assad and refers to him in uncomplimentary terms. But he clearly explains the motives of the governments that want to overthrow the Assad government, mainly Assad’s refusal to allow the construction of a pipeline through Syria for the transport of natural gas to Europe, a project desired by Qatar and its Gulf and Western allies.

From Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, ‘Why the Arabs don’t want us in Syria’, March 1, 2016:6

In part because my father was murdered by an Arab, I’ve made an effort to understand the impact of U.S. policy in the Mideast and particularly the factors that sometimes motivate bloodthirsty responses from the Islamic world against our country.

… During the 1950s, President Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers — CIA Director Allen Dulles and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles — rebuffed Soviet treaty proposals to leave the Middle East a neutral zone in the Cold War and let Arabs rule Arabia. Instead, they mounted a clandestine war against Arab nationalism … particularly when Arab self-rule threatened oil concessions. …

The CIA began its active meddling in Syria in 1949. …Syrian patriots had declared war on the Nazis, expelled their Vichy French colonial rulers and crafted a fragile secularist democracy based on the American model. But in March 1949, Syria’s democratically elected president, Shukri-al-Quwatli, hesitated to approve the Trans-Arabian Pipeline, an American project … [I]n retaliation … the CIA engineered a coup replacing al-Quwatli with the CIA’s handpicked dictator, a convicted swindler named Husni al-Za’im. …

…The Syrian people again tried democracy in 1955, re-electing al-Quwatli and his National Party. Al-Quwatli was still a Cold War neutralist, but, stung by American involvement in his ouster, he now leaned toward the Soviet camp. That posture caused CIA Director Dulles to send his two coup wizards, Kim Roosevelt and Rocky Stone, to Damascus. …

But … CIA money failed to corrupt the Syrian military officers. The soldiers reported the CIA’s bribery attempts to the Ba’athist regime. In response, the Syrian army invaded the American Embassy, taking Stone prisoner. After harsh interrogation, Stone made a televised confession of his roles in the Iranian coup and the CIA’s aborted attempt to overthrow Syria’s legitimate government. The Eisenhower White House hollowly dismissed Stone’s confession as “fabrications” and “slanders,” a denial swallowed whole by the American press, led by the New York Times and believed by the American people. …

Of course, the Russians, who sell 70 percent of their gas exports to Europe, viewed the Qatar/Turkey pipeline as an existential threat. … In 2009, Assad announced that he would refuse to sign the agreement to allow the pipeline to run through Syria “to protect the interests of our Russian ally.”

… Soon after [that] … the CIA began funding opposition groups in Syria. It is important to note that this was well before the Arab Spring-engendered uprising against Assad.

Bashar Assad’s family is Alawite, a Muslim sect widely perceived as aligned with the Shiite camp. … Before the war started, according to [journalist Seymour] Hersh, Assad was moving to liberalize the country. … Assad’s regime was deliberately secular and Syria was impressively diverse. The Syrian government and military, for example, were 80 percent Sunni. Assad maintained peace among his diverse peoples by a strong, disciplined army loyal to the Assad family, an allegiance secured by a nationally esteemed and highly paid officer corps, a coldly efficient intelligence apparatus and a penchant for brutality that, prior to the war, was rather moderate compared to those of other Mideast leaders, including our current allies.

According to Hersh,

“He certainly wasn’t beheading people every Wednesday like the Saudis do in Mecca.”

… By the spring of 2011, there were small, peaceful demonstrations in Damascus against repression by Assad’s regime. … However, WikiLeaks cables indicate that the CIA was already on the ground in Syria. …

The idea of fomenting a Sunni-Shiite civil war to weaken the Syrian and Iranian regimes [and thus] to maintain control of the region’s petrochemical supplies was not a novel notion. … A damning 2008 Pentagon-funded Rand report … recommended using “covert action, information operations, unconventional warfare” to enforce a “divide and rule” strategy. …

… Two years before ISIL throat cutters stepped on the world stage, a seven-page August 12, 2012, study by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, obtained by the right-wing group Judicial Watch, warned that … “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood and AQI ([Al-Qaeda Iraq,] now ISIS), are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.”

Using U.S. and Gulf state funding, these groups had turned the peaceful protests against Bashar Assad toward “a clear sectarian (Shiite vs. Sunni) direction.” …

Not coincidentally, the regions of Syria occupied by the Islamic State exactly encompass the proposed route of the Qatari pipeline. (Emphasis added.)

… Beginning in 2011, our allies funded the invasion by AQI [Al-Qaeda Iraq] fighters into Syria. In April 2013, having entered Syria, AQI changed its name to ISIL. According to Dexter Filkins of the New Yorker, “ISIS is run by a council of former Iraqi generals. … Many are members of Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’ath Party who converted to radical Islam in American prisons.” …

But then, in 2014, our Sunni proxies horrified the American people by severing heads and driving a million refugees toward Europe. …

Tim Anderson’s Book, The Dirty War on Syria

A professor in Australia has written a book that tells the whole story in depth. Tim Anderson’s The Dirty War on Syria: Washington, Regime Change and Resistance can be ordered at https://store.globalresearch.ca/store/the-dirty-war-on-syria-washington-regime-change-and- resistance-pdf/. You can read the introductory chapter and table of contents at http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-dirty-war-on-syria/5491859. Prof. Anderson’s book is short, clear, and illustrated with helpful poster-like issue summaries (one of which appears below), and develops a much more detailed analysis than I can provide here.


The U.S. effort to undermine Assad, and to overthrow his government and replace it with one more friendly to U.S. and Western investors, was to be the latest installment of the overall U.S. program, pursued consistently since the end of World War II, to control the world in the interests of U.S. elites, including the military-industrial complex, multinational corporations generally and their investors, and the hegemony-hungry political leadership.7

To summarize the situation briefly, this graphic is from Prof. Anderson’s preface to his book:8

Further excerpts from the preface of The Dirty War On Syria:

… The British-Australian journalist Philip Knightley pointed out that war propaganda typically involves ‘a depressingly predictable pattern’ of demonising the enemy leader, then demonising the enemy people through atrocity stories, real or imagined (Knightley 2001). Accordingly, a mild-mannered eye doctor called Bashar al Assad became the ‘new evil’ in the world and, according to consistent western media reports, the Syrian Army did nothing but kill civilians for more than four years. To this day, many imagine the Syrian conflict is a ‘civil war’, a ‘popular revolt’ or some sort of internal sectarian conflict. …

… After the demonisation of Syrian leader Bashar al Assad began, a virtual information blockade was constructed against anything which might undermine the wartime storyline. Very few sensible western perspectives on Syria emerged after 2011, as critical voices were effectively blacklisted…

Excerpts from chapter five of The Dirty War On Syria:

Bashar al Assad and Political Reform:

President Hafez al Assad [father of the current president, Bashar al Assad] had brought three decades of internal stability to Syria, after the turmoil of the 1960s. … There were substantial improvements in education and health, including universal vaccination and improved literacy for women. Between 1970 and 2010 infant mortality fell from 132 to 14 (per 1,000), while maternal mortality fell from 482 to 45 (per 100,000). … (Sen, Al- Faisal and Al-Saleh 2012: 196)9 Electricity supply to rural areas rose from 2% in 1963 to 95% in 1992 (Hinnebusch 2012: 2) Traditions of social pluralism combined with advances in education drove the human development of the country well ahead of many of the more wealthy states in the region.

Nevertheless, … the system built by Hafez al Assad … also remained an authoritarian one-party system …. U.S. intelligence observed that the crushing of the Muslim Brotherhood’s insurrections in the early 1980s was welcomed by most Syrians. (DIA 1982, vii) Yet, after that …‘The feared Syrian secret police’ were ever vigilant for Zionist spies and new Muslim Brotherhood conspiracies, but this meant they also harassed a wider range of government critics. (Seale 1988: 335) … On top of this, there was resentment at the corruption built on cronyism through Ba’ath Party networks. Bashar faced all this when he came to the top job.

… At the start of the millennium, Bashar al Assad … was widely seen as an agent of reform, but …[t]here were no dramatic political reforms, despite the widespread complaints of corruption (Otrakji 2012). However his socio-economic reforms involved giving new impetus to mass education and citizenship, with a controlled economic liberalisation which opened up new markets, yet without the privatisations that had swept Eastern Europe. He released several thousand political prisoners, mainly Islamists and their sympathisers (Landis and Pace 2007: 47) … Despite the market reforms, Syria maintained its virtually free health and education system. State universities also remain virtually free, to this day, with several hundred thousand enrolled students. …

With the rallies of February-March 2011 there was a further burst of political activity. …Most of the domestic opposition groups … did not support either armed attacks on the state or the involvement of foreign powers. Most remained in Syria and some … rallied to the government. Others, while not supporting the government, backed the state and the army. …

What became known in western circles as ‘the opposition’ were mostly exiles and the Islamists who had initiated the violence.

… Informed critics have observed that the violent conflict in Syria has always been between a pluralist state and sectarian Islamists, backed by the big powers. … (Ramadani 2012).

A Turkish poll in late 2011 showed Syrians … 91% opposed [to] (and 5% supportive of) violent protest (TESEV 2012). Ramadani reconciles these two trends by suggesting that, after the initial movement away from the Government in 2011, ‘popular support shifted back’ when Syrians saw the sectarians and the Saudi-Qatari cabal behind the violence (Ramadani 2012). …

… Despite their anti-Syrian bias, some western sources exposed other ‘false flag’ massacres.

[Examples omitted; see the original.] The August 2013 chemical weapons incident in East Ghouta was widely blamed on the Assad Government. Yet all independent evidence exposed this as yet another ‘false flag’. [10]

… Syria’s strongest secular tradition is embedded in the Army. With about half a million members, both regulars and conscripts, the army is drawn from all the country’s communities (Sunni, Alawi, Shiia, Christian, Druze, Kurd, Armenian, Assyrian, etc), which all identify as ‘Syrian’. …

[M]ost of the several million Syrians, displaced by the conflict, have not left the country but rather have moved to other parts under Army protection. This is not really explicable if the Army were indeed engaged in ‘indiscriminate’ attacks on civilians. A repressive army invokes fear and loathing in a population, yet in Damascus one can see that people do not cower as they pass through the many army road blocks, set up to protect against ‘rebel’ car bombs.

… Syrians know that their Army represents pluralist Syria and has been fighting sectarian, foreign backed terrorism. This Army did not fracture on sectarian lines, as the sectarian gangs had hoped, and defections have been small, certainly less than 2%.

The Syrian Election of 2014

[M]any western nations declared Syria’s [2014] elections ‘fixed’, before they were held. … These were the same governments trying to overthrow the Syrian Government (Herring 2014). The Washington-run Voice of America falsely claimed that Syria ‘would not permit international observers’ (VOA 2014). In fact, over a hundred election observers came from India, Brazil, Russia, China, South Africa, Iran and Latin America, along with non-official observers from the U.S.A and Canada (KNN 2014; Bartlett 2014). …

The international media recognised the massive turnout, both in Syria and from the refugees in Lebanon, with some sources grudgingly admitting that ‘getting people to turn out in large numbers, especially outside Syria, is a huge victory in and of itself’ (Dark 2014). Associated Press reported on crowds of tens of thousands, in a ‘carnival like atmosphere’ in Damascus and Latakia, with ‘long lines’ of voters in Homs (FNA 2014a). AP … concluded that President Assad had ‘maintained significant support among large sections of the population’ (FNA 2014b). …

Bashar al Assad won this election convincingly, with 88.7% of the vote (AP 2014). Hassan al Nouri and Maher Hajjar gained 4.3% and 3.2% respectively (Aji 2014). With a 73.4% turnout (or 11.6 million of the 15.8 million eligible voters), that meant he had 10.3 million votes or 64% of all eligible voters. Even if every single person who was unable to vote was against him, this was a convincing mandate. … Associated Press reasonably concluded that Assad’s support was not just from minorities, but had to do with his legacy of opening up the economy, his support for women, the real benefits in education, health and electricity and, last but not least, the President’s capacity to move decisively against the sectarian armed groups (AP 2014).

Eva Bartlett provides further details in Deconstructing the NATO Narrative on Syria, Oct 10, 2015:

Million Person Marches. On March 29, 2011 (less than two weeks into the fantasy ‘revolution’) over 6 million people across Syria took to the streets in support of President al-Assad. In June, a reported hundreds of thousands marched in Damascus in support of the president, with a 2.3 km long Syrian flag. In November, 2011 (9 months into the chaos), masses again held demonstrations supporting President al-Assad, notably in Homs (the so-called “capital of the ‘revolution’”), Dara’a (the so-called “birthplace of the ‘revolution’”), Deir ez-Zour, Raqqa, Latakia, and Damascus.

Mass demonstrations like this have occurred repeatedly since, including in March 2012, in May 2014 in the lead-up to Presidential elections, and in June 2015, to note just some of the larger rallies.

In May 2013, it was reported that even NATO recognized the Syrian president’s increased popularity. “The data, relayed to NATO over the last month, asserted that 70 percent of Syrians support” the Assad government. At present, the number is now at least 80 percent.

The most telling barometer of Assad’s support base was the Presidential elections in June 2014, which saw 74 percent (11.6 million) of 15.8 million registered Syrian voters vote, with President al-Assad winning 88 percent of the votes. The lengths Syrians outside of Syria went to in order to vote included flooding the Syrian embassy in Beirut for two full days (and walking several kilometres to get there) and flying from countries with closed Syrian embassies to Damascus airport simply to cast their votes. Within Syria, Syrians braved terrorist mortars and rockets designed to keep them from voting; 151 shells were fired on Damascus alone, killing 5 and maiming 33 Syrians…

The Syrian Constitution and the process of political reformpage11image25824 page11image25984 page11image26144 page11image26784

The following is taken from Stephen Gowans article, ‘What the Syrian Constitution says about Assad and the Rebels’, May 21, 2013. See the article for the sources cited in bracketed footnotes below, and for many additional details of the new Syrian constitution.

In response to protestors’ demands, Damascus made a number of concessions that were neither superficial nor partial.

First, it cancelled the long-standing abridgment of civil liberties that had been authorized by the emergency law. The law, invoked because Syria is technically in a state of war with Israel, gave Damascus powers it needed to safeguard the security of the state in wartime, a measure states at war routinely take. Many Syrians, however, chaffed under the law, and regarded it as unduly restrictive. Bowing to popular pressure, the government lifted the security measures.

Second, the government proposed a new constitution to accommodate protestors’ demands to strip the Ba’ath Party of its special status, which had reserved for it a lead role in Syrian society. Additionally, the presidency would be open to anyone meeting basic residency, age and citizenship requirements. Presidential elections would be held by secret vote every seven years under a system of universal suffrage.

Here was the multi-party democracy the opposition was said to have clamored for. A protest movement thirsting for a democratic, pluralist society could accept the offer, its aspirations fulfilled. The constitution was put to a referendum and approved. New parliamentary multi-party elections were held. Multi-candidate presidential elections were set for 2014. A new democratic dawn had arrived. The rebels could lay down their arms and enjoy the fruits of their victory.

Or so you might expect. Instead, the insurrectionists escalated their war against Damascus, rejecting the reforms, explaining that they had arrived too late. Too late? Does pluralist democracy turn into a pumpkin unless it arrives before the clock strikes twelve? Washington, London and Paris also dismissed Assad’s concessions. They were “meaningless,” they said, without explaining why. [7] And yet the reforms were all the rebels had asked for and that the West had demanded. How could they be meaningless? Democrats, those seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and the Assad government, could hardly be blamed for concluding that ‘democracy was not the driving force of the revolt.’ [8]

Origins of the conflict

The above-quoted article by Eva Bartlett rebuts the U.S./NATO/MSM (mainstream media) version in some detail. Moving from the demonstration of President Assad’s continuing popularity, Ms. Bartlett’s article provides links to investigative reports by Professor Tim Anderson, Sharmine Narwani, and others, regarding the origins of the current conflict and the effort to discredit Bashar al Assad’s government. Excerpts of particular interest:

…From the beginning, in Dara’a and throughout Syria, armed protesters were firing upon, and butchering, security forces and civilians. Tim Anderson’s ‘Syria: how the violence began, in Daraa’ pointed out that police were killed by snipers in the March 17/18 protests; the Syrian army was only brought to Dara’a following the murder of the policemen. Additionally, a storage of protesters’ weapons was found in Dara’a’s al- Omari mosque.

Prem Shankar Jha’s, ‘Who Fired The First Shot?’ described the slaughter of 20 Syrian soldiers outside Dara’a a month later, ‘by cutting their throats, and cutting off the head of one of the soldiers.’ …

In ‘Syria: The Hidden Massacre’, Sharmine Narwani investigated the early massacres of Syrian soldiers, noting that many of the murders occurred even after the Syrian government had abolished the state security courts, lifted the state of emergency, granted general amnesties, and recognized the right to peaceful protest.

The April 10, 2011 murder of Banyas farmer Nidal Janoud was one of the first horrific murders of Syrian civilians by so-called “unarmed protesters.” Face gashed open, mutilated and bleeding, Janoud was paraded by an armed mob, who then hacked him to death.

Father Frans Van der Ludt—the Dutch priest living in Syria for nearly 5 decades prior to his April 7, 2014 assassination by militants occupying the old city of Homs—
wrote (repeatedly) of the ‘armed demonstrators’ he saw in early protests, ‘who began to shoot at the police first.’

May 2011 video footage of later-resigned Al Jazeera journalist Ali Hashem shows fighters entering Syria from Lebanon, carrying guns and RPGs (Hashem stated he’d likewise seen fighters entering in April). Al Jazeera refused to air the May footage, telling Hashem to ‘forget there are armed men.’ [See: Sharmine Narwani’s ‘Surprise Video Changes Syria “Timeline’ at http://english.al-akhbar.com/blogs/sandbox/surprise-video- changes-syria-timeline#_blank] Unarmed protesters?

In the case of Daraa, and the attacks that moved to Homs and surrounding areas in April 2011, the clearly stated aim was once again to topple the secular or “infidel-Alawi” regime. The front-line U.S. collaborators were Saudi Arabia and Qatar, then Turkey.11

From Sharmine Narwani, How narratives killed the Syrian people:12 (from RT.com, March 23, 2016)

… How words kill
Four key narratives were spun ad nauseam in every mainstream Western media outlet, beginning in March 2011 and gaining steam in the coming months. – The Dictator is killing his “own people.”

– The protests are “peaceful.”
– The opposition is “unarmed.”
– This is a “popular revolution.”

… With the benefit of hindsight, let’s look at these Syria narratives five years into the conflict:
We know now that several thousand Syrian security forces were killed in the first year, beginning March 23, 2011. We therefore also know that the opposition was “armed” from the start of the conflict. We have visual evidence of gunmen entering Syria across the Lebanese border in April and May 2011. We know from the testimonies of impartial observers that gunmen were targeting civilians in acts of terrorism and that “protests” were not all “peaceful”.

The Arab League mission conducted a month-long investigation inside Syria in late 2011 and reported:

“In Homs, Idlib and Hama, the observer mission witnessed acts of violence being committed against government forces and civilians that resulted in several deaths and injuries. Examples of those acts include the bombing of a civilian bus, killing eight persons and injuring others, including women and children, and the bombing of a train carrying diesel oil. In another incident in Homs, a police bus was blown up, killing two police officers. A fuel pipeline and some small bridges were also bombed.”

… Furthermore, we also now know that whatever Syria was, it was no “popular revolution.” The Syrian army has remained intact, even after blanket media coverage of mass defections. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians continued to march in unreported demonstrations in support of the president. The state’s institutions and government and business elite have largely remained loyal to Assad. Minority groups – Alawites, Christians, Kurds, Druze, Shia, and the Baath Party, which is majority Sunni – did not join the opposition against the government. And the major urban areas and population centers remain under the state’s umbrella, with few exceptions.

A genuine “revolution,” after all, does not have operation rooms in Jordan and Turkey. Nor is a “popular” revolution financed, armed and assisted by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., UK and France.

From Prem Shankar Jha, Who Fired the First Shot?: (Hands Off Syria Sydney, Feb 27, 2014)

Who Fired the First Shot?

… Syrians whom I interviewed in October 2012 in Damascus … [told this] story[:] Assad had sincerely wished to start the transition to democracy a decade earlier, but was forced to postpone the changeover repeatedly by the growing turmoil in Syria’s neighbourhood —the U.S.’ invasion of Iraq in 2003; the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri and the concerted bid to force Syria out of Lebanon in 2004; Washington’s decision to break diplomatic relations with Damascus in 2005; Israel’s attack on Lebanon in 2006, its blockade of Palestine in 2007, and its bombing of Gaza in 2009. Faisal Al Mekdad, Syria’s vice minister for foreign affairs and its former permanent representative at the UN, summed up Assad’s dilemma as follows: “Each of these events reminded us of the need for unity in the face of external pressures and threats, and forced us to postpone democratization for fear of setting off fresh internal conflicts and forcing adjustments when we could least afford them’.

Was there a spontaneous protest and was it peaceful? … Syrians I talked to in October 2012, and resident diplomats concurred, that there had been no spontaneous popular upsurge against the regime in Syria, and that the civil war was a fructification of plans for regime change that had been hatched much earlier and brought forward because the opportunity provided by the ‘Arab Spring’, and western liberals’ ecstatic response to it, was too good to miss.

Damascus first became aware of the conspiracy when trouble broke out on March 18, 2011 in Dera’a, a small city astride the Syria – Jordan border. A peaceful demonstration demanding some political changes in the local administration and lowering of diesel prices turned violent when shots were fired killing four persons. The international media, led by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, and the Riyadh-based Al Arabiya television channels immediately accused Assad’s forces of firing into the crowd to disperse it.

The Syrian government’s version of what had happened was entirely different. The first shots, it claimed, were fired on March 18 … by armed men who had infiltrated the procession and, at a pre-determined moment, begun to shoot at the security police. That is why, of the four persons killed on that day, one was a policeman. However, according to Dr Mekdad, what convinced the government that the Dera’a uprising was part of a larger conspiracy was what happened when the police sent for reinforcements. Armed men ambushed one of the trucks as it entered Dera’a and killed all the soldiers in it. [Emphasis added.]

The Syrian government chose not to publicise this for fear of demoralizing its soldiers. But … [i]ncontrovertible confirmation came a month later when ‘peaceful protesters’ stopped an army truck outside Dera’a and again killed all the 20 soldiers in it. But this time they did so by cutting their throats. This was the sanctified method of killing that the ‘Afghanis’, as the Afghanistan-returned Jihadis were called in Algeria, had used to kill more than ten thousand villagers during two years of bitter insurgency after the First Afghan war. It was to be seen over and over again in Syria in the coming months.

The Syrian government again chose to remain silent, and the only whiff of this event in the media was a rebel claim that they had captured and burnt an armoured personnel carrier. But in Damascus the U.S. Ambassador, Robert Ford, told a group of Ambassadors that included the Indian ambassador, that the Syrian insurgency had been infiltrated by Al Qaeda. He had come to this conclusion because, in addition to cutting throats, the insurgents had cut off the head of one of the soldiers. …

… [T]he insurgents, now labeled and recognized by the west as the “Free Syrian Army” followed a set pattern of attack: This was to descend without warning on small towns, Alaouite villages and small army and police posts in hundreds, overwhelm them. After they surrendered, the insurgents would kill local officials, civilians they deemed to be pro-Assad and soldiers who would not desert to them, and claim that these were in fact deserters whom the government forces had executed after a successful counter attack. Two such episodes captured worldwide attention in 2011.

In Jisr al Shugour, a medium sized town in the northern border province of Idlib, the international media reported, based upon rebel claims, that the government had brought in not only tanks but also helicopters to bomb the town from the air – the first resort to air power against ‘protestors’. When some soldiers, who were disgusted by the indiscriminate carnage, attempted to defect the Syrian troops killed them. The indiscriminate firing forced civilians to flee to nearby villages. Some crossed over to Turkey. [Emphasis added.]

This claim captured the headlines in the western media for days, but the story pieced together by a diplomat whom the Syrian government took to Jisr-al Shugour when the town had been recaptured, was however very different. In the beginning of June 2011 some five to six hundred fighters of the Free Syrian Army suddenly laid siege to the town for 48 hours. When the army sent in reinforcements the rebels, who had mined a bridge on the approach road blew it up as a truck was passing over it, killed the soldiers and cut the only access to the town by road. Two days later, when they overwhelmed the garrison, instead of taking them prisoner they killed all of them, many by cutting their throats, threw their bodies into the Orontes river, and later posted videos claiming that these were army defectors whom the Syrian forces had killed.

This was corroborated two months later by a resident of the town who came the Indian embassy to get a visa. According to him between 500 and 600 rebels had descended upon the town from Turkey. On the way they stopped a bus, shot six of its passengers and spread the word that army had done it. Many people believed them, were enraged and stood by as the hunt for fleeing soldiers and supporters of the government began. Some joined in the hunt. In all, he said, the number of soldiers and government supporters killed and dumped in the Orontes was not 120 but close to 300. This was the first of dozens of similar war crimes by the FSA.

From Sharmine Narwani, Syria: The hidden massacre RT.com, May 7, 2014


Just recently a Tunisian jihadist who goes by the name Abu Qusay, told Tunisian television that his “task” in Syria was to destroy and desecrate mosques with Sunni names (Abu Bakr mosque, Othman mosque, etc) in false-flag sectarian attacks to encourage defection by Syrian soldiers, the majority of whom are Sunni. One of the things he did was scrawling pro-government and blasphemous slogans on mosque walls like “Only God, Syria and Bashar.” It was a “tactic” he says, to get the soldiers to “come on our side” so that the army “can become weak.” …

A member of the large Hariri family in Daraa, who was there in March and April 2011, says people are confused and that many “loyalties have changed two or three times from March 2011 till now. They were originally all with the government. Then suddenly changed against the government – but now I think maybe 50% or more came back to the Syrian regime.”

The province was largely pro-government before things kicked off. According to the UAE paper The National, “Daraa had long had a reputation as being solidly pro-Assad, with many regime figures recruited from the area.”

… HRW [Human Rights Watch] admits “that protestors had killed members of security forces” but caveats it by saying they “only used violence against the security forces and destroyed government property in response to killings by the security forces or…to secure the release of wounded demonstrators captured by the security forces and believed to be at risk of further harm.”

We know that this is not true – the April 10 shootings of the nine soldiers on a bus in Banyas was an unprovoked ambush. So, for instance, was the killing of General Abdo Khodr al-Tallawi, killed alongside his two sons and a nephew in Homs on April 17. That same day in the pro-government al-Zahra neighborhood in Homs, off-duty Syrian army commander Iyad Kamel Harfoush was gunned down when he went outside his home to investigate gunshots. Two days later, Hama-born off-duty Colonel Mohammad Abdo Khadour was killed in his car. And all of this only in the first month of unrest. [Emphasis added.]

In 2012, HRW’s Syria researcher Ole Solvag told me that he had documented violence “against captured soldiers and civilians” and that “there were sometimes weapons in the crowds and some demonstrators opened fire against government forces.”

But was it because the protestors were genuinely aggrieved with violence directed at them by security forces? Or were they “armed gangs” as the Syrian government claims? Or – were there provocateurs shooting at one or both sides?

[More on provocateurs:] … Discussion about the role of provocateurs in stirring up conflict has made some headlines since Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet’s leaked phone conversation with the EU’s Catherine Ashton disclosed suspicions that pro-west snipers had killed both Ukranian security forces and civilians during the Euromaidan protests.

Says Paet: “All the evidence shows that people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and people from the streets, that they were the same snipers killing people from both sides…and it’s really disturbing that now the new (pro-western) coalition, they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened.”

A recent German TV investigation the sniper shootings confirms much about these allegations, and has opened the door to contesting versions of events in Ukraine that did not exist for most of the Syrian conflict – at least not in the media or in international forums. …

Since early 2011 alone, we have heard allegations of “unknown” snipers targeting crowds and security forces in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Ukraine. What could be more effective at turning populations against authority than the unprovoked killing of unarmed innocents? By the same token, what could better ensure a reaction from the security forces of any nation than the gunning down of one or more of their own? …

An alternative approach, from Stephen Gowans:

I have presented here a somewhat detailed account of direct evidence, including eye-witness accounts, and analysis from sources I find credible, regarding the violence that began in March 2011. By identifying what I take to be the actual sources of that violence, I try to show that it did not arise from any widespread dissatisfaction with the government or “revolutionary distemper,” and was not initiated by the Syrian government, but by violent Islamists who tried to and failed to incite a popular uprising. Stephen Gowans draws a similar conclusion but from a different angle, arguing that there simply was no widespread dissatisfaction from which the current conflict could have grown, or as Gowans puts it, “The Revolutionary Distemper in Syria … Wasn’t.” A brief excerpt illustrates Gowan’s approach:

There is a shibboleth in some circles that … the uprising in Syria ‘began as a response to the Syrian government’s neoliberal policies and brutality,’ and that ‘the revolutionary content of the rebel side in Syria has been sidelined by a hodgepodge of Saudi and Qatari-financed jihadists.’ This theory appears, as far as I can tell, to be based on argument by assertion, not evidence.

[An impressive photo of a huge demonstration in 2011 supporting Syria’s secular Arab nationalist government that appears in Gowans’ article is omitted here.]

A review of press reports in the weeks immediately preceding and following the mid- March 2011 outbreak of riots in Daraa—usually recognized as the beginning of the uprising—offers no indication that Syria was in the grips of a revolutionary distemper, whether anti-neo-liberal or otherwise. On the contrary, reporters representing Time magazine and the New York Times referred to the government as having broad support, of critics conceding that Assad was popular, and of Syrians exhibiting little interest in protest. At the same time, they described the unrest as a series of riots involving hundreds, and not thousands or tens of thousands of people, guided by a largely Islamist agenda and exhibiting a violent character.

Time magazine reported that two jihadist groups that would later play lead roles in the insurgency, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, were already in operation on the eve of the riots, while a mere three months earlier, leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood voiced “their hope for a civil revolt in Syria.” The Muslim Brothers, who had decades earlier declared a blood feud with Syria’s ruling Ba’athist Party, objecting violently to the party’s secularism, had been embroiled in a life and death struggle with secular Arab nationalists since the 1960s, and had engaged in street battles with Ba’athist partisans from the late 1940s. (In one such battle, Hafez al-Assad, the current president’s father, who himself would serve as president from 1970 to 2000, was knifed by a Muslim Brother adversary.) The Brotherhood’s leaders, beginning in 2007, met frequently with the U.S. State Department and the U.S. National Security Council, as well as with the U.S. government-funded Middle East Partnership Initiative, which had taken on the overt role of funding overseas overthrow organizations—a task the CIA had previously done covertly.


What about the sarin gas attack?

It remains commonplace to accuse Assad of the sarin gas attack of August 2013 (as recently as the December 22, 2016 issue of The New York Review of Books, discussed below under “The current situation”), even though it has been shown that the attack was most likely a “false flag” attempting to frame Assad for the work of terrorist rebels aided by Turkey. (See Seymour Hersh, The Red Line and the Rat Line: Obama, Erdoğan and the Syrian rebels, London Review of Books Vol. 36 No. 8 · 17 April 2014, pp 21-24, online: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n08/seymour- m-hersh/the-red-line-and-the-rat-line.) There are further discussion and citations on this topic above, text at endnote 7. Seymour Hersh provided further information last April, in an interview tied to Hersh’s new book, The Killing of Osama Bin Laden. The following is taken from that interview, which is posted at AlterNet http://www.alternet.org/world/exclusive-interview- seymour-hersh-dishes-saudi-oil-money-bribes-and-killing-osama-bin-laden:

Let me talk to you about the sarin story [the sarin gas attack in Ghouta, a suburb near Damascus, which the U.S. government attributed to the Assad regime] because it really is in my craw. In this article that was this long series of interviews [of Obama] by Jeff Goldberg…he says, without citing the source (you have to presume it was the president because he’s talking to him all the time) that the head of National Intelligence, General [James] Clapper, said to him very early after the [sarin] incident took place, “Hey, it’s not a slam dunk.”

You have to understand in the intelligence community—Tenet [Bush-era CIA director who infamously said Iraqi WMD was a “slam dunk”] is the one who said that about the war in Baghdad—that’s a serious comment. That means you’ve got a problem with the intelligence. As you know I wrote a story that said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs told the president that information the same day. I now know more about it.

The president’s explanation for [not bombing Syria] was that the Syrians agreed that night, rather than be bombed, they’d give up their chemical weapons arsenal, which in this article in the Atlantic, Goldberg said they [the Syrians] had never disclosed before. This is ludicrous. Lavrov [Russia’s Foreign Minister] and Kerry had talked about it for a year—getting rid of the arsenal—because it was under threat from the rebels.

The issue was not that they [the Syrians] suddenly caved in. [Before the Ghouta attack] there was a G-20 summit and Putin and Bashar met for an hour. There was an official briefing from Ben Rhodes and he said they talked about the chemical weapons issue and what to do. The issue was that Bashar couldn’t pay for it—it cost more than a billion bucks. The Russians said, ‘Hey, we can’t pay it all. Oil prices are going down and we’re hurt for money.’ And so, all that happened was we agreed to handle it. We took care of a lot of the costs of it.

Guess what? We had a ship, it was called the Cape Maid, it was parked out in the Med. The Syrians would let us destroy this stuff [the chemical weapons]… there was 1,308 tons that was shipped to the port…and we had, guess what, a forensic unit out there. Wouldn’t we like to really prove—here we have all his sarin and we had sarin from what happened in Ghouta, the UN had a team there and got samples—guess what?

It didn’t match. But we didn’t hear that. I now know it, I’m going to write a lot about it.

Guess what else we know from the forensic analysis we have (we had all the missiles in their arsenal). Nothing in their arsenal had anything close to what was on the ground in Ghouta. A lot of people I know, nobody’s going to go on the record, but the people I know said we couldn’t make a connection, there was no connection between what was given to us by Bashar and what was used in Ghouta. That to me is interesting. That doesn’t prove anything, but it opens up a door to further investigation and further questioning.

The current situation (as of December 27, 2016):

I’ve outlined “from the ground up,” so to speak, my reasons for disbelieving the basic U.S. government line on Syria and much or all of what I see in the mainstream media. Of course, events continue to unfold, and so does the useful commentary.

As I write, the Syrian Government has reportedly driven the terrorists from Aleppo, but ISIS has meanwhile recaptured Palmyra. While President-elect Trump has indicated he would cooperate with Russia in combating terrorism – and presumably, abandon the U.S. effort to unseat Bashar al Assad – pressure continues from influential quarters to maintain opposition to Assad.

For example, an item has just appeared in The New York Review of Books, arguing that both Russia and Syria have committed war crimes in the ongoing conflict, and that the Trump administration should increase pressure on Russia to curtail what the article calls Assad’s atrocities. (Kenneth Roth, “What Trump Should Do In Syria,” December 22, 2016 issue.) A detailed response would take up too much of my time and yours, but some answer seems warranted. Suffice it to say that the NYRB article is written by Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and that in my view, from having followed the Syrian conflict and related stories for some time, neither HRW nor Amnesty International has the credibility with me that they used to have. In particular, the NYRB piece trots out and repeats the old sarin gas story, now thoroughly debunked. Beyond that, I would point to this entire primer/essay as refutation of the work of that other man named Roth (no relation of mine, I’m glad to say). See especially the narrative immediately above, the interview with Paul Larudee immediately below, and the narrative and sources cited in endnote ix.

For another indication of the continuing nature of the U.S. threat to Syria, see Patrick Henningsen, ‘New Obama Executive Action Opens Door to Unlimited Arms for Salafi Terrorists in Syria’, December 8, 2016, http://21stcenturywire.com/2016/12/08/breaking-new-obama-executive-order-opens-door-for-unlimited-arms-to-islamist-terrorists-in-syria/; and for further indication of the continuing terrorist threat and the need for responsive action, see ‘Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Introduces Legislation to Stop Arming Terrorists], December 8, 2016 Press Release, at https://gabbard.house.gov/news/press-releases/video-rep-tulsi-gabbard-introduces- legislation-stop-arming-terrorists.

Here are some further excerpts from some of the most useful and informative recent materials:

* From Paul Larudee, ‘The reporting on Syrian conflict is unusual for the extent of fabricated information’ (August 31, 2016),


Muslim Press: How do you analyze the operation to liberate Aleppo?

Paul Larudee: … Of course, it’s possible to carpet bomb East Aleppo into oblivion, but there is still a large civilian population there, so the Syrian government is not doing that, and they set up three areas for the civilians to leave the area. This is how the Syrian army has retaken most areas, such as Homs, Ghouta, Qalamoun, etc. It’s why they have one of the lowest civilian/combatant casualty ratios of any war, even though the number of total casualties over five years is a great tragedy. …

MP: What’s your take on the media outlets that report the Syrian conflict? Do they portray a true image of the war with concrete facts and evidence?

Paul Larudee: More than 2500 years ago, the Greek playwright Aeschylus wrote, “In war, truth is the first casualty.” This has not changed. As usual, the media are being used as instruments of war, and even the NGOs are providing false and biased information according to the source of their funding. However, I must say that the reporting on Syria is unusual for the extent of fabricated information, including photos and videos that are no more than theater or are real but from totally different origins than reported. Some are reused from other places and sometimes not even Syrian. Caveat emptor! [Emphasis added.]13

MP: Syrian Army has been accused of starving out the residents, using barrel bombs and chemical weapons against civilians. What could you say about this?

Paul Larudee: This is war. We have to be realistic. The Syrian government makes every effort to get civilians to leave a war zone, and offers support services to those who do. But some of them still don’t leave, either because they are afraid of what might happen to their homes or because the terrorists use them as “human shields” and prevent them from leaving, or for their own reasons. In this case it is not unusual for government forces to besiege the area. This is less dangerous to the civilian population and to the soldiers (whose lives are also important) than sending the army in to fight door to door. Under these circumstances it is often difficult for the population to get supplies. In some situations, the starvation has been real, as in Ghouta and the last days of Homs before liberation, but it has also been fabricated or exaggerated, as in Madaya. Keep in mind that the anti-government fighters do the same, as with the sieges of the towns of Foua and Kafarya, which have lasted for years.

The difference is that they often do not end with respect for the lives of the captured population. By contrast, when most of the civilian population has left, the government tries to end the siege peacefully, often by offering amnesty to the fighters. Those who refuse are then often attacked by aerial bombardment and other weapons of war that are most likely to spare the lives of the soldiers. This usually ends in surrender.

“Barrel bombs” are just simple gravity bombs that are made in Syria. They are not fundamentally different from other bombs dropped from aircraft except that they are much less expensive to produce and use, and must be dropped from helicopters because they would be less accurate from jet aircraft. The western media and governments hypocritically argue that “barrel bombs” are inhuman. Their governments use different bombs that are just as destructive or even more so, but they can demonize “barrel bombs” because they do not use them…

* From “Standing By Syria,” by Margaret Kimberley,


reposted from the Freedom Rider column for Black Agenda Report:

Focusing on Assad’s government and treatment of his people may seem like a reasonable thing to do. Most people who call themselves anti-war are serious in their concern for humanity. But the most basic human right, the right to survive, was taken from 400,000 people because the American president decided to add one more notch on his gun. Whether intended or not, criticism of the victimized government makes the case for further aggression.

The al-Nusra Front may change its name in a public relations effort, but it is still al Qaeda and still an ally of the United States. The unpredictable Donald Trump may not be able to explain that he spoke the truth when he accused Obama and Clinton of being ISIS supporters, but the anti-war movement should be able to explain without any problem. Cessations of hostilities are a sham meant to protect American assets whenever Assad is winning. If concern for the wellbeing of Syrians is a paramount concern, then the American anti-war movement must be united in condemning their own government without reservation or hesitation.

* From AP Exclusive: Assad blames U.S. for collapse of Syria truce (September 22, 2016),

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/48f66e4501a945b69bc5ec3c0066d964/ap-exclusive-assad-blames- us-syria-truce-collapse:

The war has been defined by gruesome photos and video posted in the aftermath of bloody attacks or documenting the plight of children in particular. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, and once-thriving cities have been ravaged, with entire blocks reduced to rubble. The images have galvanized public opinion worldwide — but [Syrian president Bashar] Assad, while acknowledging that the war had been “savage,” said the accounts should not be automatically believed.

“Those witnesses only appear when there’s an accusation against the Syrian army or the Russian (army), but when the terrorists commit a crime or massacre … you don’t see any witnesses,” he said. What a coincidence.” …

Assad dismissed the U.S. account [of the U.S. attack on Syrian government troops], saying the attack targeted a “huge” area for more than an hour.

“It wasn’t an accident by one airplane… It was four airplanes,” Assad said. “You don’t commit a mistake for more than one hour.” …

Asked about … the use of indiscriminate weapons, Assad said there’s no difference between bombs: “When you have terrorists, you don’t throw at them balloons, or you don’t use rubber sticks. … You have to use armaments.”

A full transcript of this AP interview with Syrian president Assad is at

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/c6cfec4970e44283968baa98c41716bd/full-transcript-ap-interview- syrian-president-assad

* How might the war end?

Mr. Assad believes the war could end quickly if foreign governments supporting the terrorists would withdraw their support. Responding to a question about when … Syrians who fled the war can return, Assad said:

If we look at it according to the internal Syrian factors, I would say it’s very soon, a few months, and I’m sure about that, I’m not exaggerating, but when you talk about it as part of a global conflict and a regional conflict, when you have many external factors that you don’t control, it’s going to drag on and no-one in this world can tell you when but the countries, the governments, the officials who support directly the terrorists. Only they know, because they know when they’re going to stop supporting those terrorists, and this is where the situation in Syria is going to be solved without any real obstacles.14

* More from “Why the Arabs don’t want us in Syria” by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, quoted above:

What is the answer? … Using the same imagery and language that supported our 2003 war against Saddam Hussein, our political leaders led Americans to believe that our Syrian intervention is an idealistic war against tyranny, terrorism and religious fanaticism. … But … only when we see this conflict as a proxy war over a pipeline do events become comprehensible. … The million refugees now flooding into Europe are refugees of a pipeline war and CIA blundering. …

… Let’s face it; what we call the “war on terror” is really just another oil war. We’ve squandered $6 trillion on three wars abroad and on constructing a national security warfare state at home since oilman Dick Cheney declared the “Long War” in 2001. The only winners have been the military contractors and oil companies that have pocketed historic profits, the intelligence agencies that have grown exponentially in power and influence to the detriment of our freedoms and the jihadists who invariably used our interventions as their most effective recruiting tool. We have compromised our values, butchered our own youth, killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people, subverted our idealism and squandered our national treasures in fruitless and costly adventures abroad. …

… Over the past seven decades, the Dulles brothers, the Cheney gang, the neocons and their ilk have … deployed our military and intelligence apparatus to serve the mercantile interests of large corporations and particularly, the petroleum companies and military contractors that have literally made a killing from these conflicts.

It’s time for Americans to turn America away from this new imperialism and back to the path of idealism and democracy. We should let the Arabs govern Arabia and turn our energies to the great endeavor of nation building at home. We need to begin this process, not by invading Syria, but by ending the ruinous addiction to oil that has warped U.S. foreign policy for half a century.

* From Tim Anderson, The Dirty War on Syria, Chapter 14, “Toward A New Middle East”:

‘No foreign officials might determine the future of Syria, the future of Syria’s political system or the individuals who should govern Syria. This is the Syrian peoples’ decision.’- Bashar al Assad, 2015

… Washington and its minions have been obsessive and intransigent in their aim to isolate and exclude President Assad from a future Syrian Government. … This futile demand really illustrates how little respect Washington has for international law. [Emphasis added.] [T]he Geneva agreements of 2012 … stress that ‘It is for the Syrian people to determine the future of the country’ (TASS 2015; UN 2012). That is a simple but fundamental point that Washington does not want to understand. Russian President Putin is generally diplomatic to his western ‘partners’, however on one occasion he said: ‘Rise above the endless desire to dominate. You must stop acting out of imperialistic ambitions. Do not poison the consciousness of millions of people, like there can be no other way but imperialistic politics’ (Putin 2015). …

Washington’s ‘Plan B’ for Syria has been a weakening and eventual dismemberment of the country. This is helpfully spelt out by a Brookings Institute paper of June 2015 (O’Hanlon 2015). This plan quite brazenly calls for Washington to break its ‘Syria problem’ into ‘a number of localised components … envisioning ultimately a more confederal Syria made up of autonomous zones rather than being ruled by a strong central government’ (O’Hanlon 2015: 3). …

… Russia, legally invited to Syria, repeatedly requested U.S. cooperation, thus calling Washington’s bluff. Washington … had pretended not to own ISIS, failed to attack the terrorist group when Syrian towns were assailed and falsely pretended there was a fundamental difference between ISIS and the other ‘moderate rebels’. However Russia agreed with Syria that all the anti-government armed groups were sectarian terrorists. The U.S. refused to identify any of their ‘moderate rebel’ groups, so Russia [beginning in late September 2015] … attacked them all. In face of this, the U.S. protested that their ‘moderates’ were being targeted, or that the Russians were ‘killing civilians’. …

… Syrians, including most devout Sunni Muslims, reject that head-chopping, vicious and sectarian perversion of Islam promoted by the Gulf monarchies. This is no sectarian or Shia-Sunni war, but a classical imperial war, using proxy armies.

* On the battle for Aleppo

Mainstream media coverage of Syria has lately focused on what the U.S. calls “war crimes” in the battle for Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. But most Western media never get any closer to Aleppo than Beirut, which is not even in Syria. For their information, these media often rely on the U.S. government or groups like the White Helmets, who get funding from the U.S. and others attempting to overthrow the Syrian government. As veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn points out:

Unsurprisingly, foreign journalists covering developments in east Aleppo and rebel-held areas of Syria overwhelmingly do so from Lebanon or Turkey. A number of intrepid correspondents who tried to do eyewitness reporting from rebel-held areas swiftly found themselves tipped into the boots of cars or otherwise incarcerated.

Experience shows that foreign reporters are quite right not to trust their lives even to the most moderate of the armed opposition inside Syria. But, strangely enough, the same media organisations continue to put their trust in the veracity of information coming out of areas under the control of these same potential kidnappers and hostage takers. They would probably defend themselves by saying they rely on non-partisan activists, but all the evidence is that these can only operate in east Aleppo under license from the al- Qaeda-type groups.

It is inevitable that an opposition movement fighting for its life in wartime will only produce, or allow to be produced by others, information that is essentially propaganda for its own side. The fault lies not with them but a media that allows itself to be spoon-fed with dubious or one-sided stories.

For instance, the film coming out of east Aleppo in recent weeks focuses almost exclusively on heartrending scenes of human tragedy such as the death or maiming of civilians. One seldom sees shots of the 10,000 fighters, whether they are wounded or alive and well.” Patrick Cockburn, “Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong,” December 2, 2016 (posted at http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/02/why-everything-youve-read-about-syria-and- iraq-could-be-wrong/.)

However, photo-journalist Vanessa Beeley recently traveled to Syria, including Aleppo, and has issued a two-part report, both exposing the so-called “White Helmets” and interviewing members of Syria’s real civil defense, that you can see and read at

http://www.mintpressnews.com/journey-to-aleppo-exposing-the-truth-buried-under-nato-propaganda/220563/ and

http://www.mintpressnews.com/journey-aleppo-part-ii-syria-civil- defense-aleppo-medical-association-real-syrians-helping-real-syrians/220817/.

More than 1.5 million civilians live in government-held western Aleppo, including 600,000 who fled eastern Aleppo. The Aleppo Medical Association estimated that about 200,000 were living in terrorist-occupied eastern Aleppo, including 50,000 so-called “rebels” and their families, before the Syrian Army and its allies recently recaptured the whole of the city.

Government forces could have flattened eastern Aleppo long ago, but held back out of concern for civilians. Assad recently offered readjustment help to civilians leaving eastern Aleppo, and even to Syrian fighters who lay down their arms. But the insurgents continued pounding western Aleppo daily with weapons, including “hell cannons” firing gas canisters packed with explosives, glass, shrapnel and even chemicals. The terrorist bombardment of western Aleppo with such weapons caused horrific harm to civilians there, including children, but was seemingly invisible to the mainstream media.

* Analyst Pepe Escobar concludes that the U.S. is managing the siege of Mosul in such a way as to allow jihadists to escape Mosul so they can join the Islamic State fighters in Syria. Pepe Escobar, The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle,

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/10/21/the-aleppo- mosul-riddle/ October 21, 2016).


The myth of the “moderate rebels,” Assad’s continuing support in Syria, the real reasons for U.S. intervention in Syria, delusions still prevailing in official Washington and parroted by mainstream media, the ordeal of the Syrian people, and the risks the continuing conflict poses for world peace. Additional materials on these topics and others are listed here in chronological order by date of publication.

Eva Bartlett, Liberated Homs Residents Challenge Notion of “Revolution,” July 8, 2014, http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/liberated-homs-residents-challenge-notion-of-revolution/

Eva Bartlett, Western corporate media ‘disappears’ over 1.5 million Syrians and 4,000 doctors, https://www.sott.net/article/325238-Western-corporate-media-disappears-over-1-5- million-Syrians-and-4000-doctors, August 14, 2016

Prof. Tim Anderson, Why Syrians Support Bashar al Assad, Global Research, September 30, 2014, http://www.globalresearch.ca/why-syrians-support-bashar-al-assad/5405208.

Mike Whitney, Everything You Needed to Know About Syria in 8 Minutes, October 30, 2015, http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/10/30/everything-you-needed-to-know-about-syria-in- 8-minutes/.

Prof. Tim Anderson, Syria: ‘Moderate Rebel’ Massacres and Everyday Propaganda, December 16, 2015, Telesur;

http://www.syriasolidaritymovement.org/2016/01/03/syria- moderate-rebel-massacres-and-everyday-propaganda/January 3, 2016.

Mairead Maguire | (Inter Press Service), Syrian Peace Groups: This is not a Civil War, it is a Set of Foreign Invasions, January 5, 2016,

http://www.juancole.com/2016/01/syrian-peace- groups-this-is-not-a-civil-war-it-is-a-set-of-foreign-invasions.html and

http://peacenews.org/2016/01/05/syrian-peace-groups-this-is-not-a-civil-war-it-is-a-set-of- foreign-invasions/.

Stephen Gowans, U.S. Role as State Sponsor of Terrorism Acknowledged in U.S. Congressional Research Service Report on Syria Conflict, Global Research, January 11, 2016, what’s left 10 January 2016.

Bouthaina Shaaban, The Rise of ISIS and Other Extremist Groups: the role of the West and Regional Powers,” Jan 29, 2016, Counter Punch, http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/01/29/the- rise-of-isis-and-other-extremist-groups-the-role-of-the-west-and-regional-powers/

Philip Giraldi, Delusions on Syria prevail in official Washington, February 2, 2016, http://www.unz.com/article/an-improbable-solution/.

‘Russian operation in Syria is our salvation’ – top Syrian Catholic bishop to RT, Published time: 18 Feb, 2016 21:25, http://on.rt.com/74vu

Stephen Kinzer, The media are misleading the public on Syria, February 18, 2016,

http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2016/02/18/the-media-are-misleading-public- syria/8YB75otYirPzUCnlwaVtcK/story.html?event=event25

Vanessa Beeley, Syria: Aleppo Doctor Demolishes Imperialist Propaganda and Media Warmongering, June 15, 2016,

http://21stcenturywire.com/2016/06/15/syria-aleppo-doctor- demolishes-imperialist-propaganda-and-media-warmongering/

Alexander Mercouris, Washington does the unthinkable, kills Syrian troops and helps ISIS, September 18, 2016,

http://theduran.com/as-moscow-complains-about-us-foot-dragging- washingtons-throws-a-tantrum-bombs-syrian-troops-and-helps-isis/

Finian Cunningham, Syria Shows U.S. Under Military Rule, September 20, 2016, https://sputniknews.com/columnists/20160920/1045507773/syria-shows-us-under-military- rule.html

Mike Whitney, Rogue Mission: Did the Pentagon Bomb Syrian Army to Kill Ceasefire Deal?, September 20, 2016,

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/09/20/rogue-mission-did- the-pentagon-bomb-syrian-army-to-kill-ceasefire-deal/

Vanessa Beeley, Journey To Aleppo: Exposing The Truth Buried Under NATO Propaganda, September 20, 2016,

http://www.mintpressnews.com/journey-to-aleppo-exposing- the-truth-buried-under-nato-propaganda/220563/ (Part I) and

http://www.mintpressnews.com/journey-aleppo-part-ii-syria-civil-defense-aleppo-medical- association-real-syrians-helping-real-syrians/220817/ (Part II).

Alexander Mercouris, Making up the news: How the Western media misreported the Syrian convoy attack, September 21, 2016,

http://theduran.com/making-news-western-media- misreported-syrian-convoy-attack/

Felicity Arbuthnot, Syria: Attack on Aid Convoy Kills Twenty, Destroys Aid, And Obliterates U.S. War Crimes in Support of ISIS-Daesh Terror Group?, September 21 2016,

http://www.globalresearch.ca/syria-attack-on-aid-convoy-kills-twenty-destroys-aid-and- obliterates-us-war-crimes-in-support-of-isis-daesh-terror-group/5547059

Vanessa Beeley, The REAL Syria Civil Defence Expose Nato’s ‘White Helmets’ as Terrorist-Linked Imposters, September 23, 2016,

http://21stcenturywire.com/2016/09/23/exclusive-the-real-syria-civil-defence-expose-natos- white-helmets-as-terrorist-linked-imposters/

RT.com, Sunday, Sept 25, 2016, West still arming Al-Nusra in Syria, peace almost impossible, Russia’s UN envoy tells Security Council mtg

James W Carden, How Libyan ‘Regime Change’ Lies Echo in Syria,


Consortium News, September 25, 2016 (The mainstream U.S. media has largely ignored a U.K. report on the West’s lies used to justify the Libyan “regime change,” all the better to protect the ongoing falsehoods used in Syria.)

Robert Parry, New ‘group think’ for war with Syria/Russia, Consortium News, Oct 5, 2016

Diana Johnstone, Destroying Syria: A Joint Criminal Enterprise,

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/10/04/overthrowing-the-syrian-government-a-joint-criminal- enterprise/ (October 4, 2016),

and On Assad and Syria: a Reply to a Reader,

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/10/06/on-assad-and-syria-a-reply-to-a-reader/ (October 6, 2016).

Mike Whitney, Obama Stepped Back From Brink, Will Hillary? (October 12, 2016),

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/10/12/obama-stepped-back-from-brink-will-hillary/ .

Although this piece was written before the recent presidential election, I include it here because in it Mike Whitney develops what I think is a useful analogy:

The American people need to understand what’s going on in Syria. Unfortunately, the major media only publish Washington-friendly propaganda which makes it difficult to separate fact from fiction. The best way to cut through the lies and misinformation, is by using a simple analogy that will help readers to see that Syria is not in the throes of a confusing, sectarian civil war, but the victim of another regime change operation launched by Washington to topple the government of Bashar al Assad.

With that in mind, try to imagine if striking garment workers in New York City decided to arm themselves and take over parts of lower Manhattan. And, let’s say, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decided that he could increase his geopolitical influence by recruiting Islamic extremists and sending them to New York to join the striking workers. Let’s say, Trudeau’s plan succeeds and the rebel militias are able to seize a broad swath of U.S. territory including most of the east coast stretching all the way to the mid-west. Then– over the course of the next five years– these same jihadist forces proceed to destroy most of the civilian infrastructure across the country, force millions of people from their homes and businesses, and demand that President Obama step down from office so they can replace him with an Islamic regime that would enforce strict Sharia law.

I would take issue with only one point: My understanding, largely from Steve Gowans’ terrific piece, is that the original March 2011 protesters were some combination of Muslim Brotherhood jihadists and terrorists imported from Libya. So the jihadists were not sent later, but were already there from the start, and many were not indigenous to Syria; so I don’t really think that combination of domestic and imported extremists can be fairly compared with hypothetical striking NYC garment workers. But if we clarify that point about the origin of the conflict, the analogy holds, and is highly illuminating.

Rick Sterling, The ‘White Helmets’ controversy in Syria (October 23, 2016),


John Laforge, U.S. Uranium Weapons Have Been Used in Syria (October 28, 2016),


Dan Glazebrook, Syria: the U.S. Will Never Separate Its Fighters from Al Qaeda Because It Depends on Them (November 7, 2016),

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/11/07/syria-the-us- will-never-separate-its-fighters-from-al-qaeda-because-it-depends-on-them/ (originally appeared in RT.com)

Roger Annis, No to Western intervention in Syria and Ukraine, no to its left-wing apologists (November 12, 2016),

http://rogerannis.com/no-to-western-intervention-in-syria-and-ukraine-no- to-its-left-wing-apologists/

Alexander Mercouris, Here’s why reports of intentional hospital bombings in Syria are false (November 21, 2016),

http://theduran.com/heres-why-reports-of-intentional-hospital-bombings- in-syria-are-false/

Patrick Cockburn, Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong (December 2, 2016),

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/02/why-everything-youve-read- about-syria-and-iraq-could-be-wrong/

Robert Parry, How War Propaganda Keeps on Killing (December 7, 2016), http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article45988.htm

Aleppo Liberation Exposed Mainstream Media and Their Lies About Syria (December 16, 2016) (Radio Sputnik interview with Vanessa Beeley, investigative journalist and peace activist, who had just returned from the city),

https://sputniknews.com/middleeast/201612161048664425- aleppo-liberation-media-lies/

Patrick Cockburn, There’s more propaganda than news coming out of Aleppo this week (December 17, 2016),

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/aleppo-crisis-syrian-war-bashar-al- assad-isis-more-propaganda-than-news-a7479901.html

‘I saw no evidence of executions in Syria as reported by White Helmets & MSM sources’

(interviews with Vanessa Beeley and Rick Sterling) (18 Dec, 2016), http://on.rt.com/7y0e

Mainstream Media on Syria and Russia; “Fake News,” By Joe Clifford, Global Research (December 18, 2016),

http://www.globalresearch.ca/mainstream-media-on-syria-and-russia-fake- news/5563257

Dennis J Bernstein, Extracting Aleppo from the Propaganda (interview with photojournalist Eva Bartlett) (December 20, 2016),

https://consortiumnews.com/2016/12/20/extracting-aleppo- from-the-propaganda/

Vanessa Beeley, Dr Bouthaina Shaaban’s Message to the West, ‘Corporate Media has Caused Death and Destruction in Syria’ (interview) (December 20, 2016), 21st Century Wire,

http://21stcenturywire.com/2016/12/20/syria-dr-bouthaina-shaabans-message-to-the-west- corporate-media-has-caused-death-and-destruction-in-syria/

Vanessa Beeley, East Aleppo Video Diaries: Hanano Testimonies that Shatter Corporate Media Propaganda Myths (December 22, 2016),

http://21stcenturywire.com/2016/12/22/east- aleppo-video-diaries-hanano-testimonies-that-shatter-corporate-media-propaganda-myths/

Resources to follow up and keep track:

Events are unfolding with such rapidity and complexity that it’s hard to keep up in your spare time, as I have been. Maybe it takes a “fire in the gut” to be motivated to even try. And I think it’s fair to say that I do have that fire. I feel compelled to track what’s happening as best I can, in part because I’m still afraid U.S. aggression and recklessness may lead to World War III and with it, the end of the world as we know it; and partly because I now feel for the Syrian people and the horrific ordeal they’re being put through, largely by “my own” (U.S.) government and its allies, including the UK, France, Australia, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which I understand are among the most repressive regimes on Earth.

I wrote this article to help you develop your own understanding of the situation, independently of the mainstream media that are dominated by the U.S. perspective. To track developments going forward, I’d suggest looking for more from the authors of the articles I’ve cited, whose work is excellent. I’ve never met any of them, but have come to trust their work and with some, I’ve had communication via email. In addition, many of the articles appear on websites that may be useful places to look for continuing updates.

I would especially recommend www.newcoldwar.org, as it covers well a variety of topics, including the continuing conflict in Ukraine as well as material on Syria, and other issues related to what I believe is already a New Cold War, and the threat of escalation that poses.

Regarding Syria, an extensive list is provided as Chapter 15 of Tim Anderson’s book, The Dirty War on Syria, which as I mentioned is available at

https://store.globalresearch.ca/store/the-dirty- war-on-syria-washington-regime-change-and-resistance-pdf/.


1 While I don’t know as much as I hope to learn about the Deep State or “shadow government,” I use those terms to refer to a collection of individuals and structures that appear to have had substantial influence on the policies of several administrations, and to be in part responsible for the continuity of U.S. foreign policy from one administration to the next, especially since the Reagan administration. For an elaborate discussion and analysis, see Mike Lofgren, Anatomy of the Deep State (February 21, 2014), at http://billmoyers.com/2014/02/21/anatomy-of-the-deep- state/. Ron Paul’s much briefer statement regarding pressure on Trump from the Deep State and “shadow government” seems to me right on the money; see “Trump should resist neocon & shadow gov’t influence to justify people’s hopes – Ron Paul to RT” (11 Nov, 2016), at http://on.rt.com/7upw. (By the way, I take the recent efforts to discredit RT.com as a credible source of useful news and information to be disinformative, part of the larger effort to discredit Russian president Putin and apparently, Russia itself.) And although I don’t necessarily endorse every word of it, perhaps in part, again, because I don’t as yet know as much as I hope to, Paul Larudee’s 4-page piece on the neocons (short for “neoconservatives,” although their policies are anything but consistent with what has traditionally been called conservatism) is word-for-word the most informative I’ve seen, including identification of the neocons, a short summary of their history, and their linkages with a number of so-called “think tanks.” See “The Neocon in the Oval Office” (August 31st, 2016), at http://dissidentvoice.org/2016/08/the-neocon-in-the-oval- office/.

The hysterical allegations of Russian hacking to interfere with the recent U.S. election are a prime example of the baseless demonization of Russia. An organization of intelligence veterans who have the expertise to know point out that U.S. intelligence has the capability of presenting hard evidence of any such hacking and has not done so. Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity state bluntly: “We have gone through the various claims about hacking. For us, it is child’s play to dismiss them. The email disclosures in question are the result of a leak, not a hack.” They then explain the difference between leaking and hacking. See U.S. Intel Vets Dispute Russia Hacking Claims (December 12, 2016), https://consortiumnews.com/2016/12/12/us-intel-vets-dispute-russia-hacking-claims/.

2 See, for example, ‘Russian operation in Syria is our salvation’ – top Syrian Catholic bishop to RT, Published time: 18 Feb, 2016 21:25, http://on.rt.com/74vu. By the way, Nour al-Din al- Zinki, the group responsible for the atrocity I describe, is part of the U.S.-backed Revolutionary Command Council and has received TOW anti-tank missiles courtesy of the CIA.

3 Full disclosure: In my youth I was trained in critical thinking and other skills in part by Jesuit priests at Fordham University in New York.

4 Father Frans on the Syrian Rebellion: The “Protestors” Shot First http://www.trans-int.com/wordpress/index.php/2014/04/14/father-frans-on-the-syrian-rebellion- the-protestors-shot-first/. Posted by John Rosenthal

5 I’ve just read an article that illustrates this point, about similar U.S. strategies in different countries, in greater detail. The countries involved are Libya and Syria, and the article is James Carden, How Libyan ‘Regime Change’ Lies Echo in Syria, September 25, 2016, posted at https://consortiumnews.com/2016/09/25/how-libyan-regime-change-lies-echo-in-syria/.

6 http://www.politico.eu/author/robert-f-kennedy-jr/. This article has been updated to identify Robert Kennedy as U.S. Attorney General. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is the president of Waterkeeper Alliance. His newest book is Thimerosal: Let The Science Speak.

7 See, for example, Noam Chomsky, “The Right Turn in U.S. International and Security Policy,” University of Colorado at Boulder (October 22, 1986), available from Alternative Radio, www.alternativeradio.org (1-800-444-1977); Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, (2003).

8 As I was finalizing this draft, I came across an article that does such a terrific job of reviewing the facts and evidence that I want to mention it here. My approach in this article is to review in some detail eye-witness and other accounts that show how the violence occurred, but for another insightful analysis taking a different approach, see Stephen Gowans, The Revolutionary Distemper in Syria That Wasn’t https://gowans.wordpress.com/2016/10/22/the-revolutionary- distemper-in-syria-that-wasnt/ (October 22, 2016). There’s a great deal more in the article, but one of the main things it does is to argue that the violence that began in March 2011 was not a popular uprising, as there is absolutely no evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with the Assad government in Syria at that time. I’m very much looking forward to Gowans’ book, Washington’s Long War on Syria, forthcoming in April 2017.

Another useful overview and analysis that has just appeared is by Gary Leupp, An Urgently Necessary Briefing on Syria, http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/10/14/an-urgently-necessary- briefing-on-syria/ (October 14, 2016).

9 In his book Prof. Anderson provides abbreviated citations in parentheses to sources that support the text, then at the end of each chapter, provides a detailed listing of each source. In this article I provide only the abbreviated citations; to get the full citation, please see the book, which is now available in both pdf and hard copy.

10 In reality, the Damascus sarin gas attack was carried out by an opposition group with the goal of forcing the U.S. to directly attack the Syrian government. Soon after the event, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity issued a statement reporting “the most reliable intelligence shows that Bashar al-Assad was NOT responsible for the chemical incident”. Later on, Seymour Hersh wrote two lengthy investigations pointing to Jabhat al Nusra with Turkish support being culpable. Investigative journalist Robert Parry exposed the Human Rights Watch analysis blaming the Syrian government as a “junk heap of bad evidence”. [https://consortiumnews.com/2014/04/07/the-collapsing-syria-sarin-case/; see further, https://consortiumnews.com/2014/01/21/human-rights-watchs-syria-dilemma/;
https://consortiumnews.com/2016/09/08/un-team-heard-claims-of-staged-chemical-attacks/.] In the Turkish parliament, Turkish deputies presented documents showing that Turkey provided sarin to Syrian “rebels”. A detailed examination and analysis of all fact based stories is online at whoghouta.blogspot.com. Their conclusion is that “The only plausible scenario that fits the evidence is an attack by opposition forces.” Rick Sterling, http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/09/06/socialists-supporting-nato-and-us-empire-a-response- to-ashley-smith/. There is some further information toward the end of this article.

11 This last statement is taken from History of U.S.-NATO’s “Covert War” on Syria: Daraa March 2011, Chapter 4 of Tim Anderson’s book, which is posted at http://www.globalresearch.ca/history-of-us-natos-covert-war-on-syria-daraa-march- 2011/5492182.

12 http://on.rt.com/77za Published time: 23 Mar, 2016 17:27 Edited time: 23 Mar, 2016 19:58. Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Middle East geopolitics. She is a former senior associate at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University and has a master’s degree in International Relations from Columbia University. Sharmine has written commentary for a wide array of publications, including Al Akhbar English, the New York Times, the Guardian, Asia Times Online, Salon.com, U.S.A Today, the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera English, BRICS Post and others. You can follow her on Twitter at @snarwani.

13 Regarding the fabrication and falsification of evidence, Rick Sterling did an exhaustive examination and analysis of one of the most famous items, the so-called “Caesar” photos. He summed it up this way: “The most highly publicized accusation of rampant torture and murder by Syrian authorities is the case of ‘Caesar’. The individual known as ‘Caesar’ was presented as a defecting Syrian photographer who had 55,000 photos documenting 11,000 Syrians tortured by the brutal Assad dictatorship. At the time, among mainstream media only the Christian Science Monitor was skeptical, describing it as ‘a well timed propaganda exercise’. In the past year it has been discovered that nearly half the photos show the opposite of what is claimed. The Caesar story is essentially a fraud funded by Qatar with ‘for hire’ lawyers giving it a professional veneer and massive mainstream media promotion.” Mr. Sterling’s full report, The Caesar Photo Fraud that Undermined Syrian Negotiations: 12 Problems with the Story of Mass Torture and Execution in Syria, can be viewed at http://www.syriasolidaritymovement.org/2016/03/03/the-caesar-photo-fraud-that-undermined- syrian-negotiations/. However, be forewarned, the report contains and reviews a great many ghastly photographs.

14 From ALL OUT FIGHT FOR ALEPPO BEGINS – SAA Major Offensive – complete report, Fort Russ News, J. Flores with collated and original sources, posted at http://www.fort- russ.com/2016/09/breaking-all-out-fight-for-aleppo.html.



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