FSA fighter: “Nusra is showing  a different face”

February 26, 2015

February has witnessed an uptick in hostilities between Jabhat a-Nusra and non-allied rebel brigades in the Idlib countryside.

Sawaiq a-Rahman, loyal to al-Jabha al-Islamiya, kidnapped and hanged a Nusra Emir on February 13 who had executed two local women on charges of adultery, reported London-based al-Arabi al-Jadeed. The same brigade admitted responsibility on February 23 for killing six Nusra fighters near Maarat al-Nuaman, reported pro-opposition Smartnews.

Nusra, meanwhile, has conducted a series of attacks this month on FSA-affiliated brigades in Idlib; storming the village of al-Amiriya on February 21 and burning the house of a local rebel leader.

That move followed a February 16 raid on another town, Ein la-Roz, where Nusra arrested members of Al-Liwa a-Sabia and confiscated their weapons, and a February 14 attack on Maarat Hurma, a Harakat Hazm headquarters.

One high-ranking FSA fighter in the southern Idlib countryside sees Nusra’s raids as part of a larger plan.

“The goal of these operations is to take out some FSA brigades who have weapons and do not submit to Nusra’s orders,” Abu Ahmed al-Idlibi, the alias of the FSA fighter tells Syria Direct’s Muatasem Jamal.

Nusra does not want anyone to contest their control of the area,” the fighter says.

It wants an emirate of its own in the Idlib countryside.”

Q: Describe the relationship between Nusra and residents in the southern Idlib countryside?

The relationship is awful. Nusra lost its popular support in the Idlib countryside because of bad practices against the locals and its similarity to the Islamic State organization in terms of its actions and unjust laws.

Its relationship with Syrians is like the relationship between a hangman and prisoner.

Q: How is the relationship between Nusra and the FSA battalions in the Idlib countryside?

Nusra does not acknowledge us as a party in the opposition. They consider us agents working for America, the West and the regime, something unacceptable to them.

Therefore the relationship is very bad, and clashes occur between us such as the clash in Maarat Hurma [two weeks ago].

There are also umara [princes] in Nusra who have personal revenge issues with fighters from the FSA because of silly things, so they undertake revenge in the name of Jabhat a-Nusra.

Some FSA officers presented complaints against these Nusra princes to Nusra’s high command, but the command did not respond. They only said that these are personal mistakes from the fighters and they will not hold them accountable.

Q: What are the reasons behind Nusra’s storming of some villages in the Idlib countryside and arresting FSA fighters and burning their houses, as happened in al-Amiriya? Are these operations random or organized, and if so what is their purpose?

There are no real, direct reasons behind these operations. They spring merely from charges against FSA fighters, and guesses that the FSA is assassinating their leaders and umara.

The reason why they burned the house of the leader of Alwiya al-Ansar [Muthqal al-Abdullah] and arrested a number of his fighters [in the village of al-Amiriya] was the charge that he and his forces assassinated some of their soldiers.

We can say that these operations are planned in advance, because Nusra always enters with large columns and not just a small group of fighters.

The goal of these operations is to take out some FSA brigades who to not submit to Nusra’s orders and who have weapons. That is to say, Nusra does not want anyone to contest its control of the area, it wants an emirate of its own in the Idlib countryside.

Q: How does Nusra’s raiding and arresting of supporters and fighters with the FSA impact the rebel’s battles against the regime, especially on the fronts like Morek and Jabal a-Zawiya?

I can see that after these arrest and raid operations against FSA fighters, the regime’s soldiers have become comfortable on the fronts. For example, FSA fighters on the Morek front do not fire at the regime now, they are simply stationed in the area.

As for what remains of the fronts in Jabal a-Zawiya, the FSA is exhausted, and of course that impacts the course of battles with the regime, and puts the regime in a stronger position.

Q: What is the FSA’s stance towards these arrests and other Nusra actions?

The FSA does not want to fall into a conflict with a third party, i.e. Nusra. The conflict with IS and the regime is enough. The FSA fears that it will become embroiled in killing Muslims—but if things get really bad, there will be strong responses against Nusra in the future.

Q: What was Nusra’s reaction to residents who protested against them? Did their treatment of civilians under their rule improve afterwards?

Their reaction was to raid and arrest. They threatened the locals that they would open fire on them if they came out to protest in the future.

Nusra is showing a different face from that when it entered the Idlib countryside several months ago. It has become influenced by IS and IS’s actions, and felt that it gained control of the southern countryside, so showed it true, ugly face to the locals.

Q: A few days ago one of Nusra’s ammo depots was blown up in the village of Bilin in Jabal a-Zawiya, and a number of Nusra fighters were killed, just as a Nusra car was targeted recently. Does the FSA have a relationship with these anti-Nusra operations?

I don’t think it’s farfetched that any party has a relationship with these operations against Nusra because they have come to have many enemies.

Syria to West: Accept that Assad is here to stay

New York, March 6, 2015 by Samia Nakhoul and Louis Charbonneau

Syria’s envoy to the United Nations says it’s time for the United States and other Western powers to accept that President Bashar al-Assad is here to stay, and to abandon what he suggested was a failed strategy of trying to split the Middle East into sectarian enclaves.

  Speaking to Reuters on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the Syrian war, Assad’s long-serving U.N. ambassador Bashar Ja’afari said his president was ready to work with the United States and others to combat terrorism in the Middle East.

"We don’t want any vacuum in the country that would create chaos such as happened in Libya and Iraq and … Afghanistan," he said. "President Assad can deliver because he is a strong president. He rules over a strong institution, which is the Syrian army. He has resisted pressure for four years."

   ”He is the man who can deliver any solution,” he added.

Britain and France have rejected calls to restore ties with the Assad government. U.S. officials say there is no shift in their policy regarding Assad, even as their focus is fighting Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot which is also an enemy of Damascus.

   ”We have been open for cooperation (with the U.S.),” Ja’afari said. “They don’t want it.”

Some European Union countries that withdrew their ambassadors from Syria are saying privately it is time for more communication with Damascus, diplomats said in February.

Diplomats say the calls have come from or would be supported by countries including Sweden, Denmark, Romania, Bulgaria, Austria and Spain, as well as the Czech Republic, which did not withdraw its ambassador. Norway and Switzerland, which are outside the EU, are also supportive.

Such countries say that the threat from Islamic State has made Assad the lesser of two evils, seeing a need to re-engage with Damascus as a potential ally against the extremists, according to the diplomats.

U.S. officials at the United Nations did not have an immediate comment on Ja’afari’s latest statements.

They noted recent comments to the Security Council by Washington’s U.N. ambassador Samantha Power rejecting the argument that countries should partner with Damascus to more effectively fight extremists.

The United States and other Western powers have condemned Assad for widespread human rights violations since the uprising against his government began in 2011.

But Ja’afari insisted that keeping Assad, who was re-elected last year in a poll his foes regard as illegitimate, was the only path to peace and unity.

"NOT A SYRIAN CONFLICT"

Ja’afari said that “many European delegations” had visited Damascus to ask for strengthened anti-terrorism cooperation, without specifying which countries.

"We are telling everyone … if you want this cooperation to be fruitful you need to get back to Syria, to reopen your embassies."

Indicating that Damascus wants Assad restored to international political legitimacy in exchange for security cooperation, Ja’afari said that “the benefit of such cooperation should be mutual … not only unilateral.”

   He blasted U.S. President Barack Obama’s strategy of training and arming what he described as “so-called moderate” rebels, saying it had only served to deliver weapons into the hands of Islamic State.

The training of rebels has proven difficult. The Hazzm movement was once central to a covert CIA operation to arm Syrian rebels, but the group’s collapse last week underlined the failure of efforts to unify Arab and Western support for mainstream insurgents.

   ”This is not a Syrian conflict,” Ja’afari said.

"It is an international terror war waged against the Syrian government and the Syrian people," he added, referring to the tens of thousands of foreign fighters who have joined Islamic State and other jihadist group in the country.

The U.S. Needs to Rethink Its Anti-ISIS Approach in Syria

March 6, 2015 by Faisal Itani

The U.S.-led air campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has scored some points in Syria, weakening ISIS’s oil infrastructure and revenues and keeping the group out of Kobane. However, despite these tactical gains, the campaign has had serious local side effects that have undermined the broader, long-term objective of degrading and destroying ISIS in Syria and preventing the Al Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al Nusra, from replacing or thriving alongside ISIS. Unfortunately, the coalition campaign’s priorities are not aligned with those of the only parties capable of beating Sunni jihadism in Syria – Syrian nationalist groups enjoying broad Sunni support.

Ironically, the coalition campaign has contributed to the near-collapse of nationalist forces in northern Syria who, despite their imperfections, were ISIS’s most effective rivals and competed with Jabhat al Nusra for leadership of the insurgency. Rather than work with the nationalists as partners against ISIS in the north (where jihadists are strongest), the United States has excluded them from the coalition military effort. At the same time, U.S. airstrikes on jihadists have spared the regime’s forces and inadvertently killed Syrian civilians. The U.S. also insists nationalist forces fight the jihadists—not the regime—making them appear as U.S. agents in the eyes of the Syrian people.

As a result, morale among nationalist fighters in northern Syria has plummeted. Many have defected to the jihadists, who are taking advantage of growing Syrian disillusionment with the United States and U.S.-aligned rebels to build influence among the insurgency and the people. Since the coalition campaign started, Jabhat al Nusra has driven nationalist forces out of much of their core territory in northern Syria, and ISIS continues to threaten those that remain. While nationalists have fared better in the south, they still face a potential jihadist threat there.

Meanwhile, ISIS remains essentially unchallenged in its heartland in northern Syria, despite repeated U.S. air strikes. We may take comfort in believing that ISIS’s repugnant ideology and behavior contain the seeds of its own demise, but that is not likely to reassure its local opponents. And, it misses the point: ISIS offers conquered populations the choice between submission – which brings a sense of order and some protection from regime violence – or futile resistance and death. Unfortunately, few rational Syrians in the “caliphate” would confront ISIS, as long as the only alternatives are chaos or the Syrian regime.

As it is currently envisaged, the promised U.S. train-and-equip program is unlikely to reverse the nationalists’ losses or jihadists’ gains in northern Syria. Given that participants will reportedly be tasked with fighting the United States’ jihadist enemies but not the regime, Syrian civilians and fighters will see them as U.S. mercenaries, and the jihadists as more acceptable. Instead, U.S. interests would be better served by a two-pronged approach in northern and southern Syria, helping nationalist rebels contain ISIS and compete with Jabhat al Nusra for control of the insurgency.

In the south, nationalists have fared better at keeping ISIS out and Jabhat al Nusra in check, partly due to a coherent, rational U.S.-led support program operating covertly out of Jordan. By tightly controlling weapon and funding streams and working with Jordan’s intelligence services to understand the insurgent landscape, the U.S. has helped nationalists in the south avoid the fragmentation, infighting, and lawlessness that weakened them and benefited the jihadists in northern Syria. Substantially increasing material support for nationalists in the south would allow them to dissociate from and compete effectively with Jabhat al Nusra for leadership of the insurgency, keep ISIS from expanding southward, and prepare for an eventual offensive against the jihadists. Helping southern groups apply military pressure on nearby Damascus would also facilitate a negotiated settlement with amenable regime elements, removing regime violence as a key driver of jihadism in Syria.

The situation in northern Syria is less promising, but not hopeless. Even if the coalition wants to avoid confronting regime forces, it can and should concentrate air strikes closer to ISIS’s front lines with the nationalist insurgency, helping the latter block ISIS advances in cooperation with local Kurdish forces when possible. The southern model, in which funds and arms are tightly controlled by the U.S. and flow directly to trusted rebel commanders, should be applied in the north to the extent possible.

A strategy to beat the jihadists and make sure they stay beaten must be locally-driven, led by nationalist forces supported by the Sunni population that forms the insurgency’s social base. Relying on air strikes alone, and treating nationalist groups as agents rather than partners, violates this principle. It also effectively delegates the fight against the Sunni jihadists of ISIS and Jabhat al Nusra to a heavily-Alawite regime and Shia jihadist groups including Hezbollah. Sadly, this only reinforces ISIS and Jabhat al Nusra’s dangerous but increasingly resonant sectarian narrative: that Sunni Muslims are under siege by oppressive regional minorities, Iran, and even the United States itself. A coalition strategy that strengthens this narrative would be a tragic failure.

Oil middleman between Syria and Isil is new target for EU sanctions

March 7, 2015 by David Blair

A Syrian businessman described as the “middleman” for oil deals between Isil and Bashar al-Assad’s regime will be targeted for European Union sanctions on Saturday.

The listing of George Haswani, the owner of HESCO engineering company, sheds more light on financial links between Syria’s regime and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).

In public, the two belligerents claim to be sworn enemies. Isil has vowed to topple Mr Assad and transform Syria into an Islamic “Caliphate”. But the rise of the jihadist movement has served Mr Assad’s interests by allowing him to pose as an essential bulwark against Islamist terrorism.

Isil fighters captured the oilfields of eastern Syria in 2013. Since then, the regime is believed to have funded the jihadists by purchasing oil from Isil. But those links are understood to extend further than was previously thought. Instead of merely being a customer for Isil’s oil, the regime is understood to be running some oil and gas installations jointly with the terrorist movement.

Mr Haswani’s company, HESCO, operates a gas plant in Tabqa, a town in central Syria which was captured by Isil last August. Officials believe this installation is being run jointly by Isil and personnel from the regime. The gas facility continues to supply areas of Syria controlled by Mr Assad.

Other oil and gas fields in Isil’s hands are thought to be operated by personnel who remain on the payroll of the regime’s oil ministry. The oil is then sold to Mr Assad, who distributes it in areas he controls at relatively low prices, helping him to win the loyalty of local people.

Sometimes, the regime has paid for the oil by supplying Isil-held towns with electricity.

Mr Haswani, a Christian from the town of Yabroud, will be forbidden from visiting any of the EU’s 28 member states from Saturday onwards. Any assets he holds in EU banks will also be frozen.

Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, described Mr Haswani as a “middleman buying oil from Isil on behalf of the regime”.

Mr Hammond added: “This listing gives yet another indication that Assad’s ‘war’ on Isil is a sham and that he supports them financially.”

Oil probably amounted to Isil’s single biggest source of revenue, allowing the movement to achieve financial self sufficiency and avoid dependence upon outside donors. But this could be changing.

Western intelligence services have placed Isil’s oil business under the microscope with the aim of identifying its weaknesses. The goal is to discover the “various points, from upstream to downstream, which might present vulnerabilities,” said a senior US Treasury official.

The studies have concluded that Isil’s refineries are the weakest link. Facilities of this kind have duly become a priority target for US and allied air strikes in Syria. About 200 such installations have been destroyed with “enormously disruptive” consequences for Isil’s finances, said the official.

“We believe there to be a major decrease in their oil revenues from those strikes,” he said. “It’s the reason why we think 2015 will show a substantially reduced set of oil revenues from 2014.”

However, Isil is believed to have adapted its strategy. It now uses smaller and more rudimentary refineries which are harder to target and easier to repair if they are damaged. The movement is also looking for alternative sources of revenue. One possible motive for its decision to loot the ancient city of Nimrud could be to sell priceless antiquities to smugglers.

The addition of Mr Haswani to the sanctions list brings to 55 the number of Syrian companies and individuals singled out for EU counter-measures. Another company added to the list on Saturday is accused of supplying Russian-produced banknotes to the Central Bank of Syria. DK Group is described as transferring the banknotes in cargo aircraft flying from Russia to Damascus via a variety of third countries.

A long trail of blood and tears

March 7, 2015 by Hisham Melham

There is a long trail of blood, tears and causality stretching from that fateful moment when Saddam Hussein decided to invade Iran in September 1980, to the current moment where Qassem Soleimani Iran’s supreme military commander in Syria and Iraq is leading a Shiite campaign to retake Tikrit, Saddam’s birthplace, from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) the most extreme of Sunni extremists.

For 35 years, Iraqis with a little help from their regional and international ‘friends’ have put Iraq on a steady trajectory towards state collapse and societal fragmentation. Four years after the completion of the American military withdrawal from Iraq, and four years after the beginning of the Syrian popular uprising, the United States finds itself in those two countries being eclipsed by an ascendant Iran acting as the custodian of two sectarian regimes in Baghdad and Damascus, and acquiescing – with the occasional protest- to its sectarian and regional designs. For all of their public claims that they are not cooperating militarily against the Islamic State (ISISI) the U.S. and Iran are surreptitiously fighting alongside the Shiite based regime in Iraq and the Alawite (an offshoot of Shiite Islam) based regime in Syria by leading an international air campaign against their Sunni enemies.

By focusing only on degrading (ISIS) the U.S. will end up shoring up the two Shiite sectarian regimes in Baghdad and Damascus. As long as the U.S. and its western and regional allies are not pursuing a comprehensive transitional strategy in Syria leading to the removal of the Assad regime, the very magnet that attracted (ISIS) in the first place and unless they push their Iraqi allies to seriously rein in the Shiite militias and genuinely include the Sunnis in the political life of Iraq, America’s venture in the Levant and Iraq will end tragically.

From one war to another

Saddam’s chauvinism, his primitive understanding of history and politics, his desire to settle old scores with Iran and his fear of its revolutionary zeal led him to embark on a stunning suicidal mission. The son of a brute rural environment would never entertain complex notions such as beware of invading a society when it is intoxicated with revolutionary fervor and in Iran’s case visions of Millenarianism. The European monarchies that tried to deter and reverse the French Revolution suffered the wrath of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. The Allied military intervention (in Which American forces participated) in the Russian Civil War in 1918 against the Revolutionary Bolsheviks backfired and the Red Army led by the Indefatigable Leon Trotsky emerged victorious. (Trotsky, the prolific writer and ruthlessly unorthodox warrior managed to find time between the bloody battles to write literary criticism and essays on modern art).

For 35 years, Iraqis with a little help from their regional and international ‘friends’ have put Iraq on a steady trajectory towards state collapse

At the outbreak of the longest conventional war in the twentieth century, Iraq had amassed an estimated $35 billion in foreign exchange reserves. When the guns were retired in 1988 Iraq had accumulated an external debt of over $100 billion. Saddam, who felt entitled to the wealth of his Arab allies in the Gulf because he believed that he had defended the Eastern gates of the Arab world, could not resist the beckoning of the bank vaults of Kuwait. In this sense the invasion of Kuwait was the epilogue for the Iraq-Iran war. The invasion of Kuwait led to the 1991 war and the defeat of Iraq at the hands of a U.S. organized and led international coalition and the imposition of harsh economic sanctions. In 2003 President George W. Bush with a handful of advisors decided to complete the ‘unfinished’ job of his father in 1991, and ostensibly to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and bequeath it the gift of Jeffersonian democracy. Iraq has been in a free fall ever since.

The road to Persia

From the beginning of his tenure President Obama has doggedly pursued a historic bargain with the Islamic Republic of Iran that could conceivably be as consequential to both countries and to the region as Richard Nixon’s rapprochement with China was for the two powers and to South East Asia. Administration officials believe that a nuclear deal with Iran would be the foreign policy equivalent to the Affordable Care Act (health care) Obama’s signature domestic achievement. Such an agreement it is thought would bring in Iran from the cold, and into the ‘family of nations’ and paves the way for a new era in U.S.-Iranian relations. In a recent interview President Obama hinted at that goal; “they have a path to break through that isolation and they should seize it,” the president intoned, because “if they do, there’s incredible talent and resources and sophistication … inside of Iran, and it would be a very successful regional power.” It was unfortunate indeed, that President Obama chose not to recognize the resourceful, talented and sophisticated Iranians, and they are a plenty during their peaceful and admirable uprising in 2009. Obama in fact abandoned the very Iranians, with whom he should partner and left them to the tender mercies of the Revolutionary guards after he created false equivalence between the man who stole the election and his legitimate opponent. All along Obama was the unabashed pursuer, and Ayatollah Khamenei was the aloof and at times elusive pursued. Obama’s extended hand was met during his first term by Khamenei’s clenched fist. The resumption of the nuclear talks with Iran, and the president’s eagerness for a deal, explain in part his actions, and more importantly his inactions in Iraq and Syria.

Iran’s Arab satraps

Qassem Soleimani is a very busy man. He is always on the move, he is constantly checking the frontline warriors, and the frontlines traverse Syria and Iraq. The once elusive commander of the Quds Force never seems to get tired of being filmed and photographed by his legions of Shiite and Kurdish admirers, who offer him tea and even green apples. His perennial sly smile, and his droopy but cunning eyes give him away as the tough and successful Iranian political viceroy-cum-military commander of the modern-day Shiite Internationale operating on behalf of Iran in the bad lands of the Arabs. In the last four years the Shiites of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon obliterated the political borders from Iran to the Mediterranean, long before (ISIS) did so theatrically to the Syrian-Iraqi borders. Soleimani has every reason to be happy with the ruthless efficiency of his Shiite Arab satraps such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, whose expeditionary force in Syria saved the Assad regime from collapsing, and the Badr organization in Iraq which is spearheading the current campaign against Tikrit (when they are not busy terrorizing the local Sunni population, that are suspected en mass of harboring sympathy towards (ISIS).

It is breathtaking indeed to think that twelve years after George W. Bush’s imperial venture to plant Jeffersonian democracy in the parched land of Mesopotamia, thus exacting a tremendous price from Iraqis and Americans, Iran has emerged as the uncontested main outside power in Iraq. Both the Bush and Obama administrations opted to live in denial for years, when the former premier Nouri al-Maliki was allowed for 8 years to pursue sectarian politics, hounding and intimidating his Sunni Arab and Kurdish critics. Instead of reining in these destructive policies, the Obama administration provided Maliki’s government with sophisticated weapon systems including F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopter gunships that he used against his Sunni political opponents.

Embracing old enemies

The current campaign to retake Tikrit, is being directed by Soleimani who coordinates with the heads of the Shiite militias and organizations since they constitute more than two third of the 30,000 fighters taking part in the battles. Many of these leaders have lived in Iran and they are known personally by Soleimani. These militias, whose members have American blood on their hands, are using American equipment. Some of their leaders like Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis who has been designated by the U.S. Treasury as a terrorist in 2009, a move that forced him to seek refuge in Iran until the Americans left Iraq, are directly responsible for killing Americans. The Iraqis did not inform the U.S. of the Tikrit campaign, which surprised American military commanders according to press reports. Hajj Qassem Soleimani would like to keep the Americans guessing.

President Obama’s actions in Iraq, like arming the sectarian Maliki, and his inaction in Syria like refusing to seriously arm and train the moderate opposition long before the rise of (ISIS) have facilitated the rise of (ISIS) and other radical Islamists like Jabhat al-Nusra and deepened the sectarian divide and made Iran the master of Iraq and Syria. The Obama Administration’s almost obsession with reaching a nuclear deal with Iran, and its eagerness not to provoke Iranian retaliation against American personnel in Iraq, explain in part Washington’s refusal to remove Assad from power. Americans and the rest of the world were horrified when a Jordanian pilot was immolated by (ISIS) and young Egyptian Copts were beheaded in Libya; and yet the Assad regime is responsible for killing more innocent civilians than (ISIS) could ever do, given that Assad has the industrial capacity to conduct such horrors. His primitive but lethal barrel bombs that his air force rains daily on the civilians of Aleppo, have immolated more Syrians than (ISIS) would like to claim.

These boots are not made for walking

President Obama’s absolute dogma against dispatching ground troops, known in Washington’s parlance as the perennial ‘boots on the ground’ to inflict serious damage on (ISIS) and not even entertaining conducting special operations to decimate their leadership casts serious doubt on his claim that the campaign is determined to achieving the goal of first degrading then ultimately destroying (ISIS). He has yet to mobilize the needed human and material resources to destroy (ISIS). This position, which deprives the U.S. of the much needed ground component to win the war, made the U.S. dependent on Iranian and Iraqi ground troops to do the job. American boots are not expected to be walking into the battlefield if President Obama could help it. In the current campaign to drive (ISIS) from Tikrit Iran has dispatched units of its Revolutionary Guards as well as military advisors, to coordinate the operations with Iraqi militias and military. And since the U.S. is not providing air cover, because the ‘reviled’ Soleimani is leading the charge, Iranian jets and drones have been deployed. In the last few days, U.S. officials went out of their way to assure congress and the public that America’s military is not coordinating its operations in Iraq with Iran.

Dangerous wishful thinking

However, when we look at the broad military campaign, we see that U.S. military commanders inform their Iraqi counterparts of their plans, expecting that the Iraqis will relay the information to the Iranians so that accidents and misunderstandings would be avoided. This situation led an astute observer to say that General Lloyd Austin, commander of the U.S. Central command is in charge of the air campaign against (ISIS), while General Qassem Soleimani is in charge of the land campaign. General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told a congressional committee that the involvement of the Iranian- backed Shiite militias in the battle of Tikrit and its environs which is heavily inhabited by Sunnis, could be ‘a positive thing’ provided it did not stoke sectarian tension. Dempsey went on to say ‘this is the most overt conduct of Iranian support, in the form of artillery and other things’. And as if the General was engaging in wishful thinking Dempsey added ‘frankly, it will only be a problem if it results in sectarianism’. The problem with this statement is that it flies in the face of the overwhelming evidence that these Shiite militias always play out their sectarian hatreds. The tragic reality of Iraq (and Syria) is that there is no hope that this long trail of blood and tears is likely to end any time soon.

US-Saudi Agreement to Achieve Military Balance in Syria

March 6, 2015

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said that “reaching the peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict based on Geneva 1 Conference demands achieving military balance on the ground, during a press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

“The continuity of this crisis not only led to destruction of Syria … it also made Syria a safe haven for terrorist organizations, with the endorsement of the illegitimate Bashar Al Assad’s regime. This entails a threat to Syria, the region and the world, urging us to intensify efforts to promote and support moderate opposition with all ordnance and training to encounter Al Assad’s terrorism and terrorist organizations,” Al-Faisal added.

“We are worried as much about the nature of work and the tendencies of Iran in the region, which is one of the most leading elements of implanting instability in the region,’ he said, pointing to Iranian intervention in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Iraq.

For his part, Kerry said that “Military pressure particularly may be necessary, given President Assad’s unwillingness to negotiate seriously. He explained that a combination of pressure and diplomacy will be needed to bring about a political transition in Syria. “And what we must do is strengthen the capacity for this political solution,” Kerry said.

President Khoja calls on the Friends of the Syrian people and the United States to put an end to the Iranian intervention in Syria, which amounted to direct military occupation, describing the United States’ position as “indifferent,” and the position of the Friends of the Syrian people as just “watching,” during an interview with the Qatari Al-Watan newspaper.

Khoja stresses that “the Friends of the Syrian people, particularly the United States should put an end for this intervention,” adding that “keeping Assad in power must not be part of the settlement to Iran’s nuclear file.”

Khoja concluded his remarks stressing the need to fight the root cause of terrorism, which is the Assad regime and its allied militias. The Assad regime’s state terrorism far surpasses that of ISIS, and the latest statistics confirm that the victims of ISIS do not exceed 5,000 people, while the regime’s victims exceeds 300,000 people. Moreover, if ISIS’s notorious crimes are  slaughtering and burning of their victims in dozens, the Assad regime and the paramilitary militias fighting alongside it, known as the shabiha, have been slaughtering and burning people in the thousands, using barrel bombs and chemical weapons. (Source: Syrian Coalition)

US-Saudi Agreement to Achieve Military Balance in Syria

March 6, 2015

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said that “reaching the peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict based on Geneva 1 Conference demands achieving military balance on the ground, during a press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

“The continuity of this crisis not only led to destruction of Syria … it also made Syria a safe haven for terrorist organizations, with the endorsement of the illegitimate Bashar Al Assad’s regime. This entails a threat to Syria, the region and the world, urging us to intensify efforts to promote and support moderate opposition with all ordnance and training to encounter Al Assad’s terrorism and terrorist organizations,” Al-Faisal added.

“We are worried as much about the nature of work and the tendencies of Iran in the region, which is one of the most leading elements of implanting instability in the region,’ he said, pointing to Iranian intervention in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Iraq.

For his part, Kerry said that “Military pressure particularly may be necessary, given President Assad’s unwillingness to negotiate seriously. He explained that a combination of pressure and diplomacy will be needed to bring about a political transition in Syria. “And what we must do is strengthen the capacity for this political solution,” Kerry said.

President Khoja calls on the Friends of the Syrian people and the United States to put an end to the Iranian intervention in Syria, which amounted to direct military occupation, describing the United States’ position as “indifferent,” and the position of the Friends of the Syrian people as just “watching,” during an interview with the Qatari Al-Watan newspaper.

Khoja stresses that “the Friends of the Syrian people, particularly the United States should put an end for this intervention,” adding that “keeping Assad in power must not be part of the settlement to Iran’s nuclear file.”

Khoja concluded his remarks stressing the need to fight the root cause of terrorism, which is the Assad regime and its allied militias. The Assad regime’s state terrorism far surpasses that of ISIS, and the latest statistics confirm that the victims of ISIS do not exceed 5,000 people, while the regime’s victims exceeds 300,000 people. Moreover, if ISIS’s notorious crimes are  slaughtering and burning of their victims in dozens, the Assad regime and the paramilitary militias fighting alongside it, known as the shabiha, have been slaughtering and burning people in the thousands, using barrel bombs and chemical weapons. (Source: Syrian Coalition)

IS attacks more Christian villages in northeastern Syria

Beirut, March 7, 2015 by AP

Islamic State militants attacked a string of predominantly Christian villages in northeastern Syria on Saturday, touching off heavy clashes with Kurdish militiamen and their local allies, activists said.

The attack began around dawn and targeted at least three villages near the town of Tal Tamr along the Khabur River in Hassakeh province. The Islamic State group kidnapped more than 220 Christians from the same area last month after overrunning several farming communities on the southern bank of the river.

The fighting Saturday was focused in villages on the northern bank of the river as the militants press to capture Tal Tamr, a strategic crossroads some 35 kilometers (20 miles) from the city of Hassakeh, said Osama Edwards, director of the Assyrian Network for Human Rights.

"The battles are now very intensive, very violent," said Edwards, who is based in Sweden. "Tal Tamr is the main goal of the Islamic State, to give them the corridor to the eastern border to Iraq."

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the fighting around Tal Tamr, which it said was coming under Islamic State artillery fire. Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman says the Islamic State extremists initially made gains before Kurdish fighters and local militiamen pushed them back.

There was no immediate word on casualties.

IS attacks more Christian villages in northeastern Syria

Beirut, March 7, 2015 by AP

Islamic State militants attacked a string of predominantly Christian villages in northeastern Syria on Saturday, touching off heavy clashes with Kurdish militiamen and their local allies, activists said.

The attack began around dawn and targeted at least three villages near the town of Tal Tamr along the Khabur River in Hassakeh province. The Islamic State group kidnapped more than 220 Christians from the same area last month after overrunning several farming communities on the southern bank of the river.

The fighting Saturday was focused in villages on the northern bank of the river as the militants press to capture Tal Tamr, a strategic crossroads some 35 kilometers (20 miles) from the city of Hassakeh, said Osama Edwards, director of the Assyrian Network for Human Rights.

"The battles are now very intensive, very violent," said Edwards, who is based in Sweden. "Tal Tamr is the main goal of the Islamic State, to give them the corridor to the eastern border to Iraq."

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the fighting around Tal Tamr, which it said was coming under Islamic State artillery fire. Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman says the Islamic State extremists initially made gains before Kurdish fighters and local militiamen pushed them back.

There was no immediate word on casualties.

UN approves resolution condemning use of chlorine in Syria

March 6, 2015 by AP

The U.N. Security Council has approved a United States-drafted resolution that condemns the use of toxic chemicals such as chlorine in Syria without assigning blame, while threatening militarily enforced action in the case of further violations.

All members of the 15-seat council approved the resolution except for Venezuela, which abstained.

The resolution follows last month’s condemnation by the world’s chemical weapons watchdog of the use of chlorine in Syria as a breach of international law.

Some council members such as Britain and France have blamed Syria’s government for the attacks, pointing out that Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons reports have linked chlorine attacks to helicopters and that only Syria’s government has helicopters.

Russia on Friday expressed skepticism about blaming the Syrian government, which is its ally.