Saturday, June 24, 2017

Ideological Foundations and Organizational Structure of Islamic State

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in August 2011 to April 2013, the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front were a single organization that chose the banner of “Jabhat al-Nusra.” Although the current al-Nusra Front has been led by Abu Mohammad al-Julani but he was appointed [1] as the emir of al-Nusra Front by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State, in January 2012.

Thus, al-Julani’s Nusra Front is only a splinter group of the Islamic State, which split from its parent organization in April 2013 over a leadership dispute between the two organizations.

In March 2011, protests began in Syria against the government of Bashar al-Assad. In the following months, violence between demonstrators and security forces led to a gradual militarization of the conflict. In August 2011, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was based in Iraq, began sending Syrian and Iraqi jihadists experienced in guerilla warfare across the border into Syria to establish an organization inside the country.

Led by a Syrian known as Abu Mohammad al-Julani, the group began to recruit fighters and establish cells throughout the country. On 23 January 2012, the group announced its formation as Jabhat al-Nusra.

In April 2013, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released an audio statement in which he announced that al-Nusra Front had been established, financed and supported by the Islamic State of Iraq. Al-Baghdadi declared that the two groups were merging under the name "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.” The leader of al-Nusra Front, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, issued a statement denying the merger and complaining that neither he nor anyone else in al-Nusra's leadership had been consulted about it.

Al-Qaeda Central’s leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, tried to mediate the dispute between al-Baghdadi and al-Julani but eventually, in October 2013, he endorsed al-Nusra Front as the official franchise of al-Qaeda Central in Syria. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, however, defied the nominal authority of al-Qaeda Central and declared himself as the caliph of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Keeping this background in mind, it becomes amply clear that a single militant organization operated in Syria and Iraq under the leadership of al-Baghdadi until April 2013, which chose the banner of al-Nusra Front, and that the current emir of the subsequent breakaway faction of al-Nusra Front, al-Julani, was actually al-Baghdadi’s deputy in Syria.

Thus, the Islamic State operated in Syria since August 2011 under the designation of al-Nusra Front and it subsequently changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in April 2013, after which it overran Raqqa and parts of Deir al-Zor in the summer of 2013. And in January 2014, it overran Fallujah and parts of Ramadi in Iraq and reached the zenith of its power when it captured Mosul in June 2014.

The Baathist Command Structure:

Excluding al-Baghdadi and a handful of his hardline Islamist aides, the rest of Islamic State’s top leadership is comprised of Saddam era military and intelligence officials. According to an informative Associated Press report [2], hundreds of ex-Baathists constitute the top and mid-tier command structure of the Islamic State who plan all the operations and direct its military strategy.

Although al-Baghdadi has not publicly appointed a successor, but two of the closest aides who have emerged as his likely successors over the years are Iyad al-Obaidi, his defense minister, and Ayad al-Jumaili, the in charge of security. The latter had already reportedly been killed in an airstrike in April in al-Qaim region on Iraq’s border with Syria.

Therefore, the most likely successor of al-Baghdadi would be al-Obaidi. Both al-Jumaili and al-Obaidi had previously served as security officers in Iraq’s Baathist army under Saddam Hussein, and al-Obaidi is known to be the de facto deputy of al-Baghdadi.

More to the point, it is an indisputable fact that morale and ideology play an important role in battle, and well informed readers must also be aware that the Takfiri brand of most jihadists these days has directly been inspired by the puritanical Wahhabi-Salafi ideology of Saudi Arabia, but ideology alone is not sufficient to succeed in battle.

Looking at the Islamic State’s astounding gains in Syria and Iraq in 2013-14, a question arises that where does its recruits get all the training and state-of-the-art weapons that are imperative not only for hit-and-run guerrilla warfare but also for capturing and holding large swathes of territory?

The Syria experts of foreign policy think tanks also appeared quite “worried” when the Islamic State overran Mosul that where did the Islamic State’s jihadists get all the sophisticated weapons and especially those fancy Toyota pickup trucks mounted with machine guns at the back, colloquially known as “the Technicals” amongst the jihadists?

According to a revelatory December 2013 news report [3] from a newspaper affiliated with the UAE government which supports the Syrian opposition, it is clearly mentioned that along with AK-47s, RPGs and other military gear, the Saudi regime also provides machine gun-mounted Toyota pick-up trucks to every batch of five jihadists who have completed their training in the training camps located at the border regions of Jordan.

Once those militants cross over to Daraa and Quneitra in southern Syria from the Jordan-Syria border, then those Toyota pickup trucks can easily travel all the way to Raqqa and Deir al-Zor and thence to Mosul and Anbar in Iraq.

Moreover, it is clearly spelled out in the report that Syrian militants get arms and training through a secret command center known as the Military Operations Center (MOC) based in the intelligence headquarters’ building in Amman, Jordan that has been staffed by high-ranking military officials from 14 countries, including the US, European nations, Israel and the Gulf Arab States to wage a covert war against the government in Syria.

Notwithstanding, in order to simplify the Syrian theater of proxy wars, it can be divided into three separate and distinct zones: that are, the Syrian government-controlled areas, the regions administered by the Syrian Kurds and the areas that have been occupied by the Syrian opposition.

Excluding Idlib Governorate which has been occupied by the Syrian opposition, all the major population centers along the western Mediterranean coast are controlled by the Syrian government: that include, Damascus, Homs, Hamah, Latakia and Aleppo, while the oil-rich Deir al-Zor has been contested between the regime and the Islamic State.

The regions that are administered by the Syrian Kurds include Qamishli and al-Hasakah in northeastern Syria, Kobani along the Turkish border and a canton in northwestern Syria, Afrin.

Excluding the western Mediterranean coast and the adjoining major urban centers controlled by the Syrian government and the Kurdish-controlled areas in the north of Syria along the borders with Iraq and Turkey, the Syrian opposition-controlled areas can be further subdivided into three separate zones of influence:

Firstly, the northern and northwestern zone along the Syria-Turkey border, in and around Aleppo and Idlib, which is under the influence of Turkey and Qatar. Both these countries share the ideology of Muslim Brotherhood and provide money, training and arms to Sunni Arab militant organizations, such as al-Tawhid Brigade, Zenki Brigade and Ahrar al-Sham in the training camps located in the border regions of Turkey in collaboration with CIA’s MOM (a Turkish acronym for military operations center).

Secondly, the southern zone of influence along the Syria-Jordan border, in Daraa and Quneitra and as far away as Homs and Damascus. It is controlled by the Salafist Saudi-Jordanian camp and they provide money, weapons and training to the Salafi-Wahhabi militant groups, such as al-Nusra Front and the Southern Front of the so-called “moderate” Free Syria Army (FSA) in Daraa and Quneitra, and Jaysh al-Islam in the suburbs of Damascus. Their military strategy is directed by a Military Operations Center (MOC) and training camps located in the border regions of Jordan, as I have already described.

Here, let me clarify that this distinction is overlapping and heuristic, at best, because al-Nusra’s jihadists have taken part in battles as far away as Idlib and Aleppo, and pockets of opposition-held areas can be found even in the regime-controlled cities, including in the capital, Damascus.

And thirdly, the eastern zone of influence along the Syria-Iraq border, in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor, which has been controlled by a relatively maverick Iraq-based jihadist outfit, the Islamic State, though it had received funding and weapons from Turkey and the Gulf Arab States before it turned rogue and overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq in early 2014.

Thus, leaving the Mediterranean coast and Syria’s border with Lebanon, the Baathist and Shi’a-dominated Syrian regime has been surrounded from all three sides by hostile Sunni forces: Turkey and Muslim Brotherhood in the north, Jordan and the Salafists of the Gulf Arab States in the south and the Sunni Arab-majority regions of Mosul and Anbar in Iraq in the east.

The Sectarian, anti-Shi’a Ideology:

According to reports, Syria's pro-Assad militias are comprised of local militiamen as well as Shi’a foreign fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and even the Hazara Shi’as from as far away as Afghanistan and Pakistan. And similarly, Sunni jihadists from all over the region have also been flocking to the Syrian battlefield for the last seven years. A full-scale Sunni-Shi’a war has been going on in Syria, Iraq and Yemen which will obviously have its repercussions all over the Islamic World where Sunni and Shi’a Muslims have coexisted in relative peace for centuries.

Moreover, unlike al Qaeda which is a terrorist organization that generally employs anticolonial and anti-Zionist rhetoric to draw funds and followers, the Islamic State and the majority of Sunni Arab militant groups in Syria are basically anti-Shi’a sectarian outfits. By the designation “terrorism,” it is generally implied and understood that an organization which has the intentions and capability of carrying out acts of terrorism on the Western soil.

Although the Islamic State has carried out a few acts of terrorism against the Western countries, but if we look at the pattern of its subversive activities, especially in the Middle East, it generally targets the Shi’a Muslims in Syria and Iraq. A few acts of terrorism that it has carried out in the Gulf Arab states were also directed against the Shi’a Muslims in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia and Shi’a mosques in Yemen and Kuwait.

Regarding the Syrian opposition, a small fraction of it has been comprised of defected Syrian soldiers who go by the name of Free Syria Army, but the vast majority has been comprised of Sunni Arab jihadists and armed tribesmen who have been generously funded, trained, armed and internationally legitimized by their regional and international patrons.

The Islamic State is nothing more than one of numerous Syrian militant outfits, others being: al Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, al-Tawhid brigade, Jaysh al Islam etc. All the Sunni Arab militant groups that are operating in Syria are just as fanatical and brutal as the Islamic State. The only feature that differentiates the Islamic State from the rest is that it is more ideological and independent-minded.

The reason why the US has turned against the Islamic State is that all other Syrian militant outfits only have local ambitions that are limited to fighting the Assad regime in Syria, while the Islamic State has established a global network of transnational terrorists that includes hundreds of Western citizens who have become a national security risk to the Western countries.

More to the point, since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in August 2011 to June 2014 when the Islamic State overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq, an informal pact existed between the Western powers, their regional allies and the Sunni militants of the Middle East against the Shi’a Iranian axis comprised of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Iran’s Lebanon-based proxy, Hezbollah. In accordance with the pact, Sunni militants were trained and armed in the training camps located in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan to battle the Shi’a-dominated Syrian government.

This arrangement of an informal pact between the Western powers and the Sunni jihadists of the Middle East against the Shi’a Iranian axis worked well up to August 2014 when the Obama Administration made a volte-face on its previous regime change policy in Syria and began conducting air strikes against one group of Sunni militants battling the Syrian government, the Islamic State, after the latter overstepped its mandate in Syria and overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq, from where, the US troops had withdrawn only a couple of years ago in December 2011.

After this reversal of policy in Syria by the Western powers and the subsequent Russian military intervention on the side of the Syrian government in September 2015, the momentum of Sunni militants’ expansion in Syria and Iraq has stalled, and they now feel that their Western patrons have committed a treachery against the Sunni jihadists’ cause, that’s why they are infuriated and once again up in arms to exact revenge for this betrayal.

If we look at the chain of events, the timing of the recent spate of terror attacks against the European targets has been critical: the Islamic State overran Mosul in June 2014, the Obama Administration began conducting air strikes against the Islamic State’s targets in Iraq and Syria in August 2014, and after a lull of almost a decade since the Madrid and London bombings in 2004 and 2005, respectively, the first such incident of terrorism took place on the Western soil at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, and then the Islamic State carried out the audacious November 2015 Paris attacks and the March 2016 Brussels bombings, and this year, three horrific terror attacks have taken place in the United Kingdom within a span of less than three months.

Conclusion:

A number of Islamic State affiliates have recently sprung up all over the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia regions that have no organizational and operational association, whatsoever, with the Islamic State proper in Syria and Iraq, such as the Islamic State affiliates in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and even Boko Haram in Nigeria now falls under the rubric of the Islamic State.

It is understandable for laymen to conflate such local militant outfits for the Islamic State proper, but how come the policy analysts of think tanks and the corporate media’s terrorism experts, who are fully aware of this not-so-subtle distinction, have fallen for such a ruse?

Can we classify any ragtag militant outfit as the Islamic State merely on the basis of ideological affinity and “a letter of accreditation” from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi without the Islamic State’s Baathist command structure and superior weaponry that has been bankrolled by the Gulf’s petro-dollars?

The Western political establishments and their mouthpiece, the mainstream media, deliberately and knowingly fall for such stratagems because it serves the scaremongering agenda of vested interests. Before acknowledging the Islamic State’s affiliates in the region, the Western mainstream media also similarly and “naively” acknowledged al Qaeda’s affiliates in the region, too, merely on the basis of ideological affinity without any organizational and operational association with al Qaeda Central, such as al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda in Iraq and al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb.

Recently, the Islamic State’s purported “terror franchises” in Afghanistan and Pakistan have claimed several terror attacks against the Shi’a and Barelvi Muslims who are regarded as heretics by Takfiris. But to contend that the Islamic State is responsible for suicide blasts in Pakistan and Afghanistan is to declare that the Taliban are responsible for anarchy and militancy in Syria and Iraq.

Both are localized militant outfits and any purported affiliate of the Islamic State without its Baathist command structure and superior weaponry would be just another ragtag, local militant outfit. The distinction between the Taliban and the Islamic State lies in the fact that the Taliban follow Deobandi sect of Sunni Islam which is native to South Asia and the jihadists of the Islamic State mostly belong to the Wahhabi denomination.

Secondly, and more importantly, the insurgency in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan is a Pashtun uprising which is an ethnic group native to Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan, while the bulk of the Islamic State’s jihadists is comprised of Arab militants of Syria and Iraq. Conflating the Islamic State either with al-Qaeda or with a breakaway faction of the Taliban is a deliberate deception intended to mislead public opinion in order to exaggerate the security threat posed by the Islamic State.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The US has taken Al-Nusra Front off Terror Watch-lists after Rebranding

According to a recent report [1] by CBC Canada, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, which was formerly known as al-Nusra Front and then Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS) since July 2016, has been removed from the terror watch-lists of the US and Canada after it merged with fighters from Zenki Brigade and hardline jihadists from Ahrar al-Sham and rebranded itself as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in January this year.

The US State Department is hesitant to label Tahrir al-Sham a terror group, despite the group’s link to al-Qaeda, as the US government has directly funded and armed the Zenki Brigade, one of the constituents of Tahrir al-Sham, with sophisticated weaponry including the US-made antitank TOW missiles.

The overall military commander of Tahrir al-Sham continues to be Abu Mohammad al-Julani, whom the US has branded a Specially Designated Global Terrorist with a $10 million bounty. But for the US to designate Tahrir al-Sham as a terrorist organization now would mean acknowledging that it supplied sophisticated weapons to terrorists, and draw attention to the fact that the US continues to arm Islamic jihadists in Syria.

In order to understand the bloody history of al-Nusra Front during the Syrian civil war, bear in mind that since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in August 2011 to April 2013, the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front were a single organization that chose the banner of “Jabhat al-Nusra.” Although al-Nusra Front has been led by Abu Mohammad al-Julani but he was appointed [2] as the emir of al-Nusra Front by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State, in January 2012.

Thus, al-Julani’s al-Nusra Front is only a splinter group of the Islamic State, which split from its parent organization in April 2013 over a leadership dispute between the two organizations.

In March 2011, protests began in Syria against the government of Bashar al-Assad. In the following months, violence between demonstrators and security forces led to a gradual militarization of the conflict. In August 2011, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was based in Iraq, began sending Syrian and Iraqi jihadists experienced in guerilla warfare across the border into Syria to establish an organization inside the country.

Led by a Syrian known as Abu Mohammad al-Julani, the group began to recruit fighters and establish cells throughout the country. On 23 January 2012, the group announced its formation as Jabhat al-Nusra.

In April 2013, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released an audio statement in which he announced that al-Nusra Front had been established, financed and supported by the Islamic State of Iraq. Al-Baghdadi declared that the two groups were merging under the name "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.” The leader of al-Nusra Front, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, issued a statement denying the merger and complaining that neither he nor anyone else in al-Nusra's leadership had been consulted about it.

Al-Qaeda Central’s leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, tried to mediate the dispute between al-Baghdadi and al-Julani but eventually, in October 2013, he endorsed al-Nusra Front as the official franchise of al-Qaeda Central in Syria. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, however, defied the nominal authority of al-Qaeda Central and declared himself as the caliph of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Keeping this background in mind, it becomes amply clear that a single militant organization operated in Syria and Iraq under the leadership of al-Baghdadi until April 2013, which chose the banner of al-Nusra Front, and that the current emir of the subsequent breakaway faction of al-Nusra Front, al-Julani, was actually al-Baghdadi’s deputy in Syria.

Thus, the Islamic State operated in Syria since August 2011 under the designation of al-Nusra Front and it subsequently changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in April 2013, after which, it overran Raqqa in the summer of 2013, then it seized parts of Deir al-Zor and fought battles against the alliance of Kurds and the Syrian regime in al-Hasakah. And in January 2014 it overran Fallujah and parts of Ramadi in Iraq and reached the zenith of its power when it captured Mosul in June 2014.

Regarding the rebranding of al-Julani’s Nusra Front to “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham” in July 2016 and purported severing of ties with al-Qaeda Central, it was only a nominal difference because al-Nusra Front never had any organizational and operational ties with al-Qaeda Central and even their ideologies are poles apart.

Al-Qaeda Central is basically a transnational terrorist organization, while al-Nusra Front mainly has regional ambitions that are limited only to fighting the Assad regime in Syria and its ideology is anti-Shi’a and sectarian. In fact, al-Nusra Front has not only received medical aid and material support from Israel, but some of its operations against the Shi’a-dominated Assad regime in southern Syria were fully coordinated with Israel’s air force.

The purpose behind the rebranding of al-Nusra Front to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and purported severing of ties with al-Qaeda Central was to legitimize itself and to make it easier for its patrons to send money and arms. The US blacklisted al-Nusra Front in December 2012 and pressurized Saudi Arabia and Turkey to ban it too. Although al-Nusra Front’s name has been in the list of proscribed organizations of Saudi Arabia and Turkey since 2014, but it has kept receiving money and arms from the Gulf Arab States.

It should be remembered that in a May 2015 interview [3] with al-Jazeera, Abu Mohammad al-Julani took a public pledge on the behest of his Gulf-based patrons that his organization only has local ambitions limited to fighting the Assad regime in Syria and that it does not intends to strike targets in the Western countries.

Thus, this rebranding exercise has been going on for quite some time. Al-Julani announced the split from al-Qaeda in a video statement last year. But the persistent efforts of al-Julani’s Gulf-based patrons have only borne fruit in January this year, when al-Nusra Front once again rebranded itself from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS) to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which also includes “moderate” jihadists from Zenki Brigade, Ahrar al-Sham and several other militant groups, and thus, the US State Department has finally given a clean chit to the jihadist conglomerate that goes by the name of Tahrir al-Sham to pursue its ambitions of toppling the Assad regime in Syria.

Who will be Al-Baghdadi’s successor after his reported death?

The Russian Ministry of Defense has claimed [1] that according to information, which is being checked through various channels, the Islamic State’s leader Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi had reportedly been killed as a result of airstrikes conducted by the Russian aircrafts near Raqqa on May 28.

The strikes targeted a meeting of high-ranking Islamic State leaders where al- Baghdadi had reportedly been present. The meeting had been gathered to plan routes for the exit of militants from Raqqa through the so-called “southern corridor.”

Among 30 field commanders and up to 300 militants who were killed in the strike were Emir of Raqqa Abu al-Haji al-Masri, Emir Ibrahim al-Naef al-Hajj who controlled the district from the city of Raqqa to the settlement of es-Sohne and the Islamic State’s head of security Suleiman al-Sawah.

Although al-Baghdadi has not publicly appointed a successor but two of the closest aides who have emerged as his likely successors over the years are Iyad al-Obaidi, his defense minister, and Ayad al-Jumaili, the in charge of security. The latter had already reportedly been killed in an airstrike in April in al-Qaim region on Iraq’s border with Syria.

Thus, the most likely successor of al-Baghdadi would be al-Obaidi. Both al-Jumaili and al-Obaidi had previously served as security officers in Iraq’s Baathist army under Saddam Hussein, and al-Obaidi is known to be the de facto deputy of al-Baghdadi.

It should be noted, however, that the US State Department and the Pentagon have neither confirmed the death of al-Jumaili nor al-Baghdadi. The mainstream media is bending over backwards to prove that al-Baghdadi is still alive and has been hiding in the desert between Raqqa and Mosul with only two of his bodyguards in a pickup truck.

It is not in Washington’s interests right now to confirm the deaths of the Islamic State’s top leaders even if it has received credible reports of their deaths because the US troops and the allied local militias have mounted offensives against the Islamic State’s strongholds of Mosul and Raqqa which have caused colossal loss of human lives.

Conventional munitions and white phosphorous are being used in large quantities against the residents of both cities, and public opinion is swiftly turning against the ill-conceived intervention in Iraq and the illegitimate US interference in Syria on the pretext of waging a war against terrorism.

According to the Russian and regional media, the US Air Force has been showering Raqqa with white phosphorous, and at the same time, the US has provided a safe exit to jihadists to escape through the “southern corridor” to the oil-rich governorate of Deir al-Zor which has been contested between the Syrian government troops, the Islamic State and the US-backed so-called “moderate” militants.

Thus, rather than a genuine war to eliminate terrorism, the US-led war against the Islamic State is turning out to be a scramble for territory in order to Balkanize Syria between the Kurds in the north, the Syrian government in the west and the US-backed Sunni Arab militants in the energy-rich east.

Therefore, it is not in Washington’s interests to verify the elimination of the Islamic State’s top leadership even if it has received credible reports to the effect because the bogey of al-Baghdadi must be kept alive until the US achieves its strategic objectives in Syria and Iraq.

Excluding al-Baghdadi and some of his hardline Islamist aides, the rest of Islamic State’s top leadership is comprised of Saddam era military and intelligence officials. According to an informative Associated Press report [2], hundreds of ex-Baathists constitute the top and mid-tier command structure of the Islamic State who plan all the operations and direct its military strategy.

Thus, apart from training and arms which have been provided to Sunni Arab militants in the training camps located on the Turkish and Jordanian border regions adjacent to Syria by the CIA in collaboration with Turkish, Jordanian and Saudi intelligence agencies, the only other factor which has contributed to the stellar success of the Islamic State is that its top cadres are comprised of professional military and intelligence officers from the Saddam era.

Moreover, it is an indisputable fact that morale and ideology plays an important role in battle, and well informed readers must also be aware that the Takfiri brand of most jihadists these days has directly been inspired by the puritanical Wahhabi-Salafi ideology of Saudi Arabia, but ideology alone is not sufficient to succeed in battle.

Looking at the Islamic State’s astounding gains in Syria and Iraq in 2014, a question arises that where does its recruits get all the training and state-of-the-art weapons that are imperative not only for hit-and-run guerrilla warfare but also for capturing and holding large swathes of territory?

The Syria experts of foreign policy think tanks also seem to be quite “worried” these days that where does the Islamic State’s jihadists get all the sophisticated weapons and especially those fancy Toyota pickup trucks mounted with machine guns at the back, colloquially known as “the Technicals” among jihadists?

According to a revelatory December 2013 news report [3] from a newspaper affiliated with the UAE government which supports the Syrian opposition, it is clearly mentioned that along with AK-47s, RPGs and other military gear, the Saudi regime also provides machine gun-mounted Toyota pick-up trucks to every batch of five jihadists who have completed their training in the training camps located at the border regions of Jordan.

Once those militants cross over to Daraa and Quneitra in southern Syria from the Jordan-Syria border, then those Toyota pickup trucks can easily travel all the way to Raqqa and Deir al-Zor and thence to Mosul and Anbar in Iraq.

Moreover, it is clearly spelled out in the report that Syrian militants get arms and training through a secret command center based in the intelligence headquarters’ building in Amman, Jordan that has been staffed by high-ranking military officials from 14 countries, including the US, European nations, Israel and the Gulf Arab States to wage a covert war against the government in Syria.

Notwithstanding, in order to create a semblance of objectivity and fairness, the American policymakers and analysts are always willing to accept the blame for the mistakes of the distant past that have no bearing on the present, however, any fact that impinges on their present policy is conveniently brushed aside.

In the case of the creation of the Islamic State, for instance, the US policy analysts are willing to concede that invading Iraq back in 2003 was a mistake that radicalized the Iraqi society, exacerbated sectarian divisions and gave birth to an unrelenting Sunni insurgency against the heavy handed and discriminatory policies of the Shi’a-dominated Iraqi government.

Similarly, the “war on terror” era political commentators also “generously” accept the fact that the Cold War era policy of nurturing al-Qaeda and myriads of Afghan so-called “freedom fighters” against the erstwhile Soviet Union was a mistake, because all those fait accompli have no bearing on their present policy.

The corporate media’s spin-doctors conveniently forget, however, that the creation of the Islamic State and myriads of other Sunni Arab jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq has as much to do with the unilateral invasion of Iraq back in 2003 under the Bush Administration as it has been the doing of the Obama Administration’s policy of funding, arming, training and internationally legitimizing the Sunni Arab militants against the Shi’a-dominated Syrian regime since 2011-onward in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa region.

In fact, the proximate cause behind the rise of the Islamic State, al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam and numerous other Sunni Arab militant groups in Syria and Iraq has been the Obama Administration’s policy of intervention through proxies in Syria.

The border between Syria and Iraq is quite porous and poorly guarded. The Obama Administration’s policy of nurturing militants against the Assad regime in Syria was bound to have its blowback on Iraq, sooner or later. Therefore, as soon as the Islamic State consolidated its gains in Syria, it overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq in early 2014 from where, the US had withdrawn its troops only a couple of years ago in December 2011.

And now, the wretched inhabitants of those regions are once again in the line of fire from the Islamic State’s suicide blasts and car bombings, on the one hand, and the US-backed artillery shelling, aerial bombardment and white phosphorous, on the other.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Europe’s Terror Blowback: From Charlie Hebdo to London Attacks

In less than three months, three horrific terror attacks have taken place in the United Kingdom: the Westminster plowing and stabbing incident on March 22 by Khalid Masood, the Manchester Arena suicide bombing two months later by Salman Abedi who was known to be a member of Al-Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and was also suspected of having ties with the Islamic State, and now another vehicle-ramming and stabbing atrocity has taken place last night at the London Bridge in which ten people have lost their lives including the attackers and 48 people have been injured.

In order to understand the motive that why the Islamic State is targeting Europe in particular, we need to keep the background of the British and French foreign policy in the Middle East in the recent years in mind. The seven-year-long Sunni-Shi’a conflict in Syria that gave birth to scores of Sunni militant groups, including the Islamic State, and after the conflict spilled over across the border into neighboring Iraq in early 2014 has directly been responsible for the recent spate of the Islamic State-inspired terror attacks in Euorpe.

Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in August 2011 to June 2014 when the Islamic State overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq, an informal pact existed between the Western powers, their regional allies and the Sunni Arab militants of the Middle East against the Shi’a Iranian axis. In accordance with the pact, Sunni Arab militants were trained and armed in the training camps located in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan to battle the Shi’a-dominated Syrian regime.

This arrangement of an informal pact between the Western powers and the Sunni Arab jihadists of the Middle East against the Shi’a Iranian axis worked well up to August 2014 when the Obama Administration made a volte-face on its previous regime change policy in Syria and began conducting air strikes against one group of Sunni militants battling the Syrian regime, the Islamic State, after the latter overstepped its mandate in Syria and overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq, from where, the US troops had withdrawn only a couple of years ago in December 2011.

After this reversal of policy in Syria by the Western powers and the subsequent Russian military intervention on the side of the Syrian regime in September 2015, the momentum of Sunni Arab militants’ expansion in Syria and Iraq has stalled, and they now feel that their Western patrons have committed a treachery against the Sunni jihadists’ cause, that’s why they are infuriated and once again up in arms to exact revenge for this betrayal.

If we look at the chain of events, the timing of the recent spate of terror attacks against the European targets has been critical: the Islamic State overran Mosul in June 2014, the Obama Administration began conducting air strikes against the Islamic State’s targets in Iraq and Syria in August 2014, and after a lull of almost a decade since the Madrid and London bombings in 2004 and 2005, respectively, the first such incident of terrorism took place on the Western soil at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, and then the Islamic State carried out the audacious November 2015 Paris attacks and the March 2016 Brussels bombings, and now, three horrific terror attacks have taken place in the United Kingdom within a span of less than three months.

Regarding the argument that how the British and French Middle Eastern policy of lending indiscriminate support to the Sunni Arab militants against the Shi’a-dominated regime in Syria has been responsible for the recent wave of terror attacks in Europe, remember that Saudi Arabia, which has been vying for power as the leader of Sunni bloc against the Shi’a-dominated Iran in the regional geopolitics, was staunchly against the invasion of Iraq by the Bush Administration in 2003.

The Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein constituted a Sunni Arab bulwark against the Iranian influence in the Arab World. But after Saddam was ousted from power in 2003 and subsequently when elections were held in Iraq which were swept by the Shi’a-dominated parties, Iraq has now been led by a Shi’a-majority government that has become a steadfast regional ally of Iran. Consequently, Iran’s sphere of influence now extends all the way from territorially-contiguous Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and the Mediterranean coast.

The Saudi royal family was resentful of Iranian encroachment on traditional Arab heartland. Therefore, when protests broke out against the Assad regime in Syria in the wake of Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, the Gulf Arab States along with their regional allies, Turkey and Jordan, and the Western patrons gradually militarized the protests to dismantle the Shi’a Iranian axis comprised of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah.

More to the point, the dilemma that the Sunni Arab militants and their regional backers are facing in Syria is quite unique: in the wake of the Ghouta chemical weapons attacks in Damascus in August 2013, the stage was all set for yet another no-fly zone and “humanitarian intervention” a la Qaddafi’s Libya; the war hounds were waiting for a finishing blow and then-Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, and then-Saudi intelligence chief, Bandar bin Sultan, were shuttling between the Western capitals to lobby for the military intervention. Francois Hollande had already announced his intentions and David Cameron was also onboard.

Here, it should be remembered that even during the Libyan intervention, the Obama Administration’s policy was a bit ambivalent and France under the leadership of Sarkozy had taken the lead role. In Syria’s case, however, the British parliament forced Cameron to seek a vote for military intervention in the House of Commons before committing the British troops and air force to Syria.

Taking cue from the British parliament, the US Congress also compelled Obama to seek approval before another ill-conceived military intervention; and since both the administrations lacked the requisite majority in their respective parliaments and the public opinion was also fiercely against another Middle Eastern war, therefore Obama and Cameron dropped their plans of enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria.

In the end, France was left alone as the only Western power still in the favor of intervention; at this point, however, the seasoned Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, staged a diplomatic coup by announcing that the Syrian regime is willing to ship its chemical weapons stockpiles out of Syria and subsequently the issue was amicably resolved.

Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf Arab states, the main beneficiaries of the Sunni Jihad against the Shi’a-dominated regime in Syria, however, had lost a golden opportunity to deal a fatal blow to their regional rivals.

To add insult to the injury, the Islamic State, one of the numerous Sunni Arab militant outfits fighting in Syria, overstepped its mandate in Syria and overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq in 2014, from where, the US troops had withdrawn only a couple of years ago in December 2011, as I have already described.

Additionally, when the graphic images and videos of Islamic State’s executions surfaced on the internet, the Obama Administration was left with no other choice but to adopt some countermeasures to show that it is still sincere in pursuing its schizophrenic “war on terror” policy; at the same time, however, it assured its Turkish, Jordanian and Gulf Arab allies that despite fighting a war against the maverick jihadist outfit, the Islamic State, the Western policy of training and arming the so-called “moderate” Syrian militants will continue apace and that Bashar al-Assad’s days are numbered, one way or the other.

Moreover, declaring the war against the Islamic State in August 2014 served another purpose too: in order to commit the US Air Force to Syria and Iraq, the Obama Administration needed the approval of the US Congress which was not available, as I have already mentioned, but by declaring a war against the Islamic State, which is a designated terrorist organization, the Obama Administration availed itself of the war on terror provisions in the US laws and thus circumvented the US Congress.

But then Russia threw a spanner in the works of NATO and its Gulf Arab allies in September 2015 by its surreptitious military buildup in Latakia that was executed with an element of surprise unheard of since General Rommel, the Desert Fox. And now Turkey, Jordan, the Gulf Arab states and their Sunni jihadist proxies in Syria find themselves at the receiving end in the Syrian civil war.

Therefore, although the Sunni states of the Middle East and their jihadist proxies still toe the American line in the region publicly, but behind the scenes, there is bitter resentment that the US has betrayed the Sunni cause by making an about-face on the previous regime change policy in Syria and the subsequent declaration of war against one group of Sunni Arab militants in Syria, i.e. the Islamic State.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

New Evidence Substantiates Seymour Hersh’s Account of Bin Laden’s Killing

In his March 10 article [1] for the Washington Post, Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US at the time of Osama Bin Laden’s execution in May 2011, has confessed to the role played by the Zardari Administration in facilitating the killing of Bin Laden.

Husain Haqqani identified then-president Asif Ali Zardari as his “civilian leader” and revealed in the article: “In November 2011, I was forced to resign as ambassador after Pakistan’s military-intelligence apparatus gained the upper hand in the country’s perennial power struggle. Among the security establishment’s grievances against me was the charge that I had facilitated the presence of large numbers of CIA operatives who helped track down bin Laden without the knowledge of Pakistan’s army, even though I had acted under the authorization of Pakistan’s elected civilian leaders.”

This confessional statement by Ambassador Haqqani lends further credence to Seymour Hersh’s account of the execution of Bin Laden in his book and article titled: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden [2], which has been published in the London Review of Books in May 2015.

According to Hersh, the initial tentative plan of the Obama Administration regarding the disclosure of the execution of Bin Laden to the press was that he had been killed in a drone strike in the Hindu Kush Mountains on the Afghan side of the border. But the operation didn’t go as planned because a Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound and the whole town now knew that an operation was underway.

Therefore, the initial plan was abandoned and the Obama Administration had to go public within hours of the operation with a hurriedly cooked up story. This fact explains so many contradictions and discrepancies in the official account of the story, the biggest being that the United States Navy Seals conducted a raid deep inside Pakistan’s territory on a garrison town without the permission of Pakistani authorities.

Moreover, according to a May 2015 AFP report [3], Pakistan’s military sources had confirmed that there was a Pakistani defector who had met several times with Jonathan Bank, the CIA’s then-station chief in Islamabad, as a consequence of which, Pakistan’s intelligence had disclosed Bank’s name to local newspapers and he had to leave Pakistan in a hurry in December 2010 because his cover was blown.

Seymour Hersh has posited in his investigative report on the Bin Laden operation in Abbottabad that the Saudi royal family had asked Pakistan as a favor to keep Bin Laden under protective custody, because he was a scion of a powerful Saudi-Yemeni Bin Laden Group and it was simply inconceivable for the Saudis to hand him over to the US.

Additionally, it should be kept in mind that Pakistan’s military and Saudi Arabia have deep and institutionalized links: thousands of Pakistani retired and serving army officers work on deputations in the Gulf States. Furthermore, during the ‘80s, when Saudi Arabia lacked an efficient intelligence set-up, Pakistan’s Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) virtually played the role of Saudi Arabia’s foreign intelligence service. And more recently, Pakistan’s former army chief, Raheel Sharif, has been appointed to lead a 40 member, Saudi-led alliance of Muslim countries to battle terrorism, dubbed as “the Muslim NATO.”

But once the Pakistani walk-in colonel, as stated in the aforementioned AFP report, had told then-CIA station chief in Islamabad, Jonathan Bank, that a high-value al Qaeda leader had been hiding in an ISI’s safe house in Abbottabad, right next to the Pakistan Military Academy, and after that, when the CIA obtained further proof in the form of Bin Laden’s DNA through the fake vaccination program carried out by Dr. Shakil Afridi, then it was no longer possible for Pakistan’s security establishment to deny the whereabouts of Bin Laden.

In his book, Seymour Hersh has already postulated various theories that why it was not possible for Pakistan’s military authorities to simply hand Bin Laden over to the US, the way the Musharraf Administration had extradited scores of al-Qaeda operatives caught in Pakistan to the Guantanamo Bay in the early years of the war on terror.

Here, let me only add that in May 2011, Pakistan had a US-friendly Zardari Administration in power. And as Ambassador Haqqani has pointed out in his article that then-army chief, Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, and the former head of military intelligence, Shuja Pasha, had been complicit in harboring Bin Laden, thus it cannot be ruled out that Pakistan’s military authorities might still have had strong objections to the US Navy Seals conducting a raid deep inside Pakistan’s territory on a garrison town.

But Pakistan’s civilian administration under then-president Asif Ali Zardari must have persuaded the military authorities to order the Pakistan Air Force and air defense systems to stand down during the operation. Ambassador Haqqani’s role in this saga ruffled the feathers of Pakistan’s top brass to an extent that Husain Haqqani was later implicated in a criminal case regarding his memo to Admiral Mike Mullen and eventually Ambassador Haqqani had to resign in November 2011, just six months after the Operation Neptune Spear.

Moreover, Greg Miller of the Washington Post posited in his last year’s May 5 report [4] that Mark Kelton, the CIA station chief in Islamabad at the time of Bin Laden’s execution in Abbottabad, was poisoned by Pakistan’s military intelligence. It should be remembered here that Mark Kelton succeeded Jonathan Bank in January 2011, after the latter’s name was made public by Pakistan’s military intelligence due to Bank’s “suspicious activities.”

Seymour Hersh has mentioned in his report that the Pakistani walk-in colonel had met Jonathan Bank and had told the latter that a high value al-Qaeda target had been hiding in a compound in Abbottabad under the protective custody of Pakistan’s military intelligence. But in order to be sure, the US needed further proof, that’s why they arranged the fake vaccination program run by Dr. Shakil Afridi to obtain Bin Laden’s DNA samples.

The original deal between the Obama and Zardari administrations was that the story would be made public a week after the operation, as described by Hersh in his report, that Bin Laden had been killed/captured in the Hindu Kush Mountains on the Afghan side of the border.

The crashed Black Hawk in Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound, however, made that impossible. The whole town now knew that an operation is underway and several social media users based in Abbottabad live-tweeted the whole incident on Twitter.

Therefore, the Obama Administration had to improvise within hours of the operation with a hurriedly cooked up story, and it tried to gain maximum political mileage out of the incident in order to secure a second term for then-president Obama in the elections slated for the next year. This fact explains so many discrepancies and loopholes in the official version of the story.

Finally, although Seymour Hersh has claimed in his account of the story that Pakistan’s military authorities were also on-board months before the operation, let me clarify, however, that according to the inside sources of Pakistan’s military, only Pakistan’s civilian administration under the US-friendly Zardari Administration was on-board, and military authorities, who were instrumental in harboring Bin Laden and his family for five years, were intimated only at the eleventh hour in order to preempt the likelihood of Bin Laden’s escape from the custody of his facilitators in Pakistan’s military intelligence.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Politics, not Religion, is the Source of Sunni-Shia Conflict

Late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
Lately, it has become a habit of Orientalist apologists of Western imperialism to offer reductive historical and theological explanations of Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the Middle East region in order to cover up the blowback of ill-conceived Western military interventions and proxy wars that have reignited the flames of the internecine conflict in the Islamic World.

Some self-anointed “Arabists” posit that the division goes all the way back to the founding of Islam, 1400 years ago, and contend that the conflict emerged during the reign of the fourth caliph, Ali bin Abi Talib, in the seventh century A.D. I wonder what would be the American-led war on terror’s explanation of such “erudite” historians of Islam – that the cause of “the clash of civilizations” can be found in the Crusades when Richard the Lionheart and Saladin were skirmishing in the Levant and exchanging courtesies at the same time?

In modern times, the Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the Middle East region is essentially a political conflict between the Gulf Arab autocrats and Iran for regional dominance which is being presented to lay Muslims in the veneer of religiosity. Saudi Arabia which has been vying for power as the leader of Sunni bloc against the Shi’a-dominated Iran in the regional geopolitics was staunchly against the invasion of Iraq by the Bush Administration in 2003.

The Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein constituted a Sunni Arab bulwark against Iran’s meddling in the Arab World. But after Saddam was ousted from power in 2003 and subsequently when elections were held in Iraq which were swept by Shi’a-dominated parties, Iraq has now been led by a Shi’a-majority government that has become a steadfast regional ally of Iran. Consequently, Iran’s sphere of influence now extends all the way from territorially-contiguous Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and the Mediterranean coast.

Moreover, during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Bush Administration took advantage of ethnic and sectarian divisions in Iraq and used the Kurds and Shi’as against the Sunni-led Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein. And during the occupation years, from 2003 to 2011, the once dominant Sunni minority was politically marginalized which further exacerbated the ethnic and sectarian divisions in Iraq.

The Saudi royal family was resentful of Iranian encroachment on the traditional Arab heartland. Therefore, when protests broke out against the Shi’a-dominated Assad regime in Syria in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, the Gulf Arab States along with their regional Sunni allies, Turkey and Jordan, and the Western patrons gradually militarized the protests to dismantle the Iranian axis.

According to reports, Syria's pro-Assad militias are comprised of local militiamen as well as Shi’a foreign fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and even the Hazara Shi’as from as far away as Afghanistan and Pakistan. And similarly, Sunni jihadists from all over the region have also been flocking to the Syrian battlefield for the last six years. A full-scale Sunni-Shi’a war has been going on in Syria, Iraq and Yemen which will obviously have its repercussions all over the Islamic World where Sunni and Shi’a Muslims have coexisted in relative peace for centuries.

More to the point, the Islamic State, al-Nusra Front and the majority of Syrian militant groups are also basically anti-Shi’a sectarian outfits. Though the Islamic State has carried out a few acts of terrorism against the Western countries, such as the high profile Paris and Brussels attacks, but if we look at the pattern of its subversive activities, especially in the Middle East, it generally targets Shi’a Muslims in Syria and Iraq. A few acts of terrorism that it has carried out in the Gulf Arab States were also directed against Shi’a Muslims in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia and Shi’a mosques in Yemen and Kuwait.

Regarding the Syrian opposition, a small fraction of it has been comprised of defected Syrian soldiers who go by the name of Free Syria Army, but the vast majority has been comprised of Sunni Arab jihadists and armed tribesmen who have been generously funded, trained, armed and internationally legitimized by their regional and international patrons.

The Islamic State is nothing more than one of numerous Syrian militant outfits, others being: al Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, al-Tawhid brigade, Jaysh al Islam etc. All the Sunni Arab militant groups that are operating in Syria are just as fanatical and brutal as the Islamic State. The only feature that differentiates the Islamic State from the rest is that it is more ideological and independent-minded.

The reason why the US has turned against the Islamic State is that all other Syrian militant outfits have only local ambitions that are limited to fighting the Assad regime in Syria, while the Islamic State has established a global network of transnational terrorists that includes hundreds of Western citizens who can later become a national security risk to the Western countries.

Notwithstanding, in order to create a semblance of objectivity and fairness, the American policymakers and analysts are always willing to accept the blame for the mistakes of the distant past that have no bearing on their present policy, however, any fact that impinges on their present policy is conveniently brushed aside.

In the case of the formation of Islamic State, for instance, the US policy analysts are willing to concede that invading Iraq back in 2003 was a mistake that radicalized the Iraqi society, exacerbated sectarian divisions and gave birth to an unrelenting Sunni insurgency against the heavy handed and discriminatory policies of the Shi’a-dominated Iraqi government.

Similarly, the “war on terror” era political commentators also “generously” accept that the Cold War era policy of nurturing al-Qaeda, Taliban and myriads of other Afghan so-called “freedom fighters” against the erstwhile Soviet Union was a mistake, because all those fait accompli have no bearing on their present policy.

The mainstream media’s spin-doctors conveniently forget, however, that the formation of the Islamic State and myriads of other Sunni Arab jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq has as much to do with the unilateral invasion of Iraq back in 2003 under the Bush Administration as it has been the legacy of the Obama Administration that funded, armed, trained and internationally legitimized the Sunni militants against the Syrian regime since 2011-onward in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa region.

In fact, the proximate cause behind the rise of the Islamic State, al Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam and numerous other Sunni jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq has been the Obama Administration’s policy of intervention through proxies in Syria.

Apart from Syria and Iraq, two other flashpoints of Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the Middle East region are Bahrain and Yemen. When peaceful protests began against the Sunni monarchy in Bahrain by the Shi’a majority population in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, Saudi Arabia sent thousands of its own troops across the border to quell the demonstrations.

Similarly, when the Iran-backed Houthis, which is an offshoot of Shi’a Islam, overran Sana’a in September 2014, Saudi Arabia and UAE mounted another ill-conceived Sunni offensive against the Houthi militia. The nature of the conflict in Yemen is sectarian to an extent that recently, the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda’s leader, Qasim al-Raymi, has claimed that al-Qaeda has been fighting hand in hand with the Saudi-led alliance against the Iran-backed rebels for the last couple of years.

The revelation does not comes as a surprise, however, because after all al-Qaeda’s official franchise in Syria, al-Nusra Front, has also been fighting hand in glove with the Syrian opposition against the Assad regime for the last six years of the Syrian civil war.

Now when the fire of inter-sectarian strife is burning on four different fronts in the Middle East and the Sunni and Shi’a communities are witnessing a merciless slaughter of their brethren in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain, then what kind of an Orientalist shill would have the time and luxury to look for the cause of the conflict in theology and history? If the Sunni and Shi’a Muslims have been so thirsty for each other’s blood since the founding of Islam, then how come they managed to survive as distinct sectarian groups for 1400 years?

Fact of the matter is that in modern times, the phenomena of Islamic radicalism, jihadism and the consequent Sunni-Shi’a conflict are only as old as the Soviet-Afghan jihad during the late seventies and eighties when the Western powers with the help of Saudi money and Pakistan’s intelligence agencies trained and armed Afghan jihadists to battle the Soviet troops in Afghanistan.

And the conflict has been further exacerbated in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 when the Western powers and their regional client states once again took advantage of the opportunity and nurtured militants against the Arab nationalist Qaddafi regime in Libya and the anti-Zionist Assad regime in Syria.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Trump’s Dramatic Turnaround on Syria: Principles vs Pragmatism

A few weeks ago, couple of caricatures went viral on the social media. In one of those caricatures, Donald Trump was depicted as a child sitting on a chair and Putin was shown whispering something into Trump’s ears from behind. And in the other, Steve Bannon was shown mumbling something into Trump’s ears with a sly smile on his face.

The meaning conveyed by those cunningly crafted caricatures was to show that Trump lacks the intelligence to think for himself and that he is being played around by Putin and Bannon. Those caricatures must have affronted the vanity of Donald Trump to an extent that after that, he has become cold towards Putin and has recently removed Bannon from the National Security Council.

Donald Trump is an overgrown child whose vocabulary does not extends beyond a few words like “amazing” and “tremendous,” and whose frequent spelling mistakes on his Twitter timeline like “unpresidented” have made him a laughing stock for journalists and academics alike. It is very easy for the neuroscientists on the payroll of corporate media to manipulate the minds of such puerile politicians and to lead them by the nose to toe the line of political establishments, particularly on foreign policy matters.

It is not a coincidence that only a day before an international conference on Syria was scheduled to be held in Brussels, a chemical weapons attack took place in Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib governorate which was blamed on the Syrian government by the mainstream media.

Similarly, it is not a coincidence that the Obama Administration’s proverbial “Red Line” has been crossed in Syria only a day after a breaking news made the headlines that the editor-in-chief of Lebanon’s al-Akhbar newspaper, Ibrahim al-Amin, had revealed in his recent editorial [1] that Tulsi Gabbard, the United States Representative for Hawaii whose trip to Syria in January and meeting with Bashar al-Assad was widely reported in media, had conveyed President Trump’s offer of cooperation to Assad during the meeting.

Apart from Tulsi Gabbard, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, and the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, have also stated on the record [2] recently that defeating the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is the first priority of the Trump Administration and that the fate of Bashar al-Assad is of least concern to the new administration.

In a dramatic turn of events after the chemical weapons attack, however, the US has launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on al-Shayrat airfield in Homs governorate from where the Syrian plane apparently flew to the chemical weapons strike site in Khan Sheikhoun. And Secretary Tillerson said the US has a "very high level of confidence" that the Syrian regime has carried out at least three attacks in recent weeks, including on Tuesday, using Sarin and nerve gas.

Unlike dyed-in-the-wool politicians, like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who cannot look past beyond the tunnel vision of political establishments, it appeared that Donald Trump not only follows news from conservative mainstream outlets, like Fox News, but that he has also been familiar with alternative news perspectives, such as Breitbart’s, no matter how racist and xenophobic.

Thus, Donald Trump is fully aware that the conflict in Syria is a proxy war initiated by the Western political establishments and their regional Middle Eastern allies against the Syrian government. And he is also mindful of the fact that militants are being funded, trained and armed in the training camps located in the Turkey-Syria border regions to the north of Syria and the Jordan-Syria border regions to the south of Syria.

Moreover, isn’t it ironic that when the “visibly moved and tearful” Donald Trump appeared on television to make a historic statement after the chemical weapons’ attack that “the attack has crossed a lot lines for me,” he was standing next to King Abdullah of Jordan who has been instrumental in creating a carnage in Syria that has claimed hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and displaced half of Syrian population?

According to an informative December 2013 report [3] from a newspaper affiliated with UAE’s government which takes the side of Syrian opposition against the Syrian government, it is clearly spelled out that Syrian militants get arms and training through a secret command center based in the intelligence headquarters’ building in Amman, Jordan that has been staffed by high-ranking military officials from 14 countries, including the US, European nations, Israel and the Gulf Arab States to wage a covert war against the government in Syria.

Thus, compared to the conventional attitude of the globalists, for an anti-status-quo administration that promised reforms and a radically different approach to foreign affairs during the election campaign, Donald Trump has let down his Alt-Right electoral base by conducting cruise missile strikes in Syria and by adopting the militarist tone and tenor of his interventionist predecessors.

As I have already mentioned that lack of understanding is not a factor here. Donald Trump is mindful of the ground realities of the Syrian theater of proxy wars. More than realization, it was required of him to take a moral stand on his principles. But expecting from a morally weak and impotent old fart to stand by his principles who was in the habit of grabbing Miss Universe pageants by their genitals and was fond of watching prostitutes perform “golden shower” in the presidential suites of Moscow’s five-star hotels is a bit na├»ve.

The Trump Administration is fully aware that a covert war is being waged against the Shi’a-dominated regime by the latter’s regional foes. America’s interest in the Syrian proxy war is partly about ensuring Israel’s regional security and partly about doing the bidding of America’s regional, Sunni allies: Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf Arab States.

Saudi Arabia which has been vying for power as the leader of Sunni bloc against the Shi’a-dominated Iran in the regional geopolitics was staunchly against the invasion of Iraq by the Bush Administration in 2003. The Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein constituted a Sunni Arab bulwark against Iran’s meddling in the Arab World.

But after Saddam was ousted from power in 2003 and subsequently elections were held in Iraq which were swept by Shi’a-dominated parties, Iraq has now been led by a Shi’a-majority government that has become a steadfast regional ally of Iran. Consequently, Iran’s sphere of influence now extends all the way from territorially-contiguous Iran and Iraq to Syria and Lebanon.

The Saudi royal family was resentful of Iranian encroachment on the traditional Arab heartland. Therefore, when protests broke out against the Assad regime in Syria in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, the Gulf Arab States along with their regional allies, Turkey and Jordan, and the Western patrons gradually militarized the protests to dismantle the Iranian resistance axis.

Finally, the Trump Administration found itself on the crossroads to choose between the non-interventionist ideals of its electoral base or to pursue the militarist, regime change policy of its predecessors in order to protect the interests of America’s regional, Middle Eastern allies in a power struggle for regional dominance which has spilled a lot of innocent blood and has reduced a whole country of 22 million people to rubble, and it has chosen the destructive path of political pragmatism over pacifist principles.

The choice was predetermined, however, because the Trump Administration has already held several face-to-face meetings with America’s longstanding allies, such as Benjamin Netanyahu, King Abdullah of Jordan, Erdogan of Turkey and the heir apparent to the Saudi throne Prince Mohammad bin Salman. An hour-long phone call to Vladimir Putin and a message of reconciliation to Bashar al-Assad through Tulsi Gabbard were simply not enough to revise America’s longstanding policy in the Middle East.