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Where Syria’s Government Sends Conquered Terrorists

Eric Zuesse

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On May 8th, Syria’s Government bannered, “6th batch of terrorists leave southern Damascus for northern Syria” and reported that “During the past five days, 218 buses carrying … terrorists with their families exited from the three towns to Jarablos and Idleb under the supervision of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.” Jarablos (or “Jarabulus”) is a town or “District” in the Aleppo Governate; and Idleb (or “Idlib”) is the capital District in the adjoining Governate of Idlib, which Governate is immediately to the west of Aleppo Governate; and both Jarabulus and Idlib border on Turkey to the north. Those two towns in Syria’s far northwest are where captured jihadists are now being sent. The Government is doing that because at this final stage in the 7-year-long war, it wants civilian deaths and additional destruction of buildings to be kept to a minimum, and so is offering jihadists the option of surviving instead of being forced to fight to the death (which would then require Syria’s Government to destroy the entire area that’s occupied by the terrorists); this way, these final clean-up operations against the terrorists won’t necessarily require bombing whole neighborhoods — surrenders thus become likelier, so as to end the war as soon as possible, and to keep destruction and civilian casualties at a minimum.

On May 7th, the Syrian Government headlined “Preparations for evacuating fifth batch of terrorists from Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahem towns started”, and reported that, “more than 60 buses entered Beit Sahem town to transport terrorists who reject the settlement [offered by the Government] along with their families from the towns to Jarablos in coincidence with the continuation of the military operation carried out by the army on the northern parts of al-Hajar al-Aswad paving the way for declaring the area of southern Damascus free of terrorism.”

Thousands of conquered jihadists (or “terrorists”) that the U.S. and its allies had been arming and assisting to overthrow and replace Syria’s elected Government, are surrendering in large numbers now, and are being loaded by Syria’s army onto buses and sent northward, mainly to the town of Jarabulus (such as the instances here and here and here and here and here and here) — that being one of the few towns where opposition to Syria’s elected President, Bashar al-Assad, has been favored by a majority of the population, and where Al Qaeda (which in Syria is called al-Nusra and other names) and ISIS (which also is called by additional names) have been more popular than Syria’s secular elected President, Assad. The entire Governate of Idlib is the most pro-jihadist Governate in all of Syria.

Here’s a breakdown of the regions (called “Governates”) of Syria, and showing each one’s support for Syria’s Government, versus their support for the U.S.-and-allied opposition to it (i.e., for the jihadists):

As can be seen there, only 9% of people polled in Idlib (“Idlip”) favored Assad, while 70% of them favored Nusra (Al Qaeda in Syria).

Those figures are from a 2014 poll taken by the British polling firm Orb International, in order to assist the U.S. and its allies to overthrow and replace Syria’s Government. That poll was commissioned for a reason — NATO wanted this information:

On 31 May 2013, the non-mainstream news-site, World Tribune, had headlined “NATO data: Assad winning the war for Syrians’ hearts and minds”, and reported that:

After two years of civil war, support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad was said to have sharply increased.

NATO has been studying data that told of a sharp rise in support for Assad. The data, compiled by Western-sponsored activists and organizations, showed that a majority of Syrians were alarmed by the Al Qaida takeover of the Sunni revolt and preferred to return to Assad, Middle East Newsline reported.

“The people are sick of the war and hate the jihadists more than Assad,” a Western source familiar with the data said. “Assad is winning the war mostly because the people are cooperating with him against the rebels.”

The data, relayed to NATO over the last month, asserted that 70 percent of Syrians support the Assad regime. Another 20 percent were deemed neutral and the remaining 10 percent expressed support for the rebels.

The sources said no formal polling was taken in Syria, racked by two years of civil war in which 90,000 people were reported killed. They said the data came from a range of activists and independent organizations that were working in Syria, particularly in relief efforts.

The data was relayed to NATO as the Western alliance has been divided over whether to intervene in Syria. Britain and France were said to have been preparing to send weapons to the rebels while the United States was focusing on protecting Syria’s southern neighbor Jordan.

A report to NATO said Syrians have undergone a change of heart over the last six months. The change was seen most in the majority Sunni community, which was long thought to have supported the revolt.

“The Sunnis have no love for Assad, but the great majority of the community is withdrawing from the revolt,” the source said. “What is left is the foreign fighters who are sponsored by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. They are seen by the Sunnis as far worse than Assad.”

And, if this is the way that Sunnis felt about Assad, and about his opposition the ‘rebels’ (that the U.S. supported), then obviously Shia (including Alawite) Syrians were even more supportive of him, and so too were Christian Syrians.

So, this British polling firm became commissioned to obtain more-reliable figures, and those figures confirmed the earlier estimates.

On 12 April 2018, three days after U.S. and its allies alleged a Syrian chemical attack in Douma in East Ghouta, Russia’s Sputnik News bannered “E Ghouta Mop-up: Militants Surrender Another Haul of Israeli, European-Made Arms” and reported that, “3,792 people, including 1,384 militants and members of their families, are being evacuated from Douma and taken to the town of Jarabulus in northeastern Aleppo, northern Syria on 85 buses.” Then, on the night of April 13th, the U.S. and some allies launched a missile-invasion against Syria based on charging Syria’s Government as having been the alleged source of the alleged chemical attack that had allegedly occurred in Douma.

Now that the U.S. alliance has failed to conquer Syria, the U.S. is trying to break off the northern third of the country, and is trying to include, in that U.S.-allied area, as much of Syria’s oil-producing region, around Deir Ezzor, as possible, so as to steal from Syrians as much of Syria’s oil as possible — oil that until recently was being stolen instead by ISIS.

None of the news-reports indicate why Jarabulus and Idlib were chosen by Syria’s Government, as the places in which to concentrate the jihadists; but, presumably, a sympathetic population exists there, to receive them. Perhaps, since they’re on the border with Turkey — which, like the U.S., has been trying to overthrow Assad — Syria’s Government is also hoping to make the jihadists become Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s problem to deal with, and not only Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s problem. Maybe doing that would reduce some of Erdogan’s ardor for regime-change in Syria.

Most of Syria’s ‘rebels’ are not Syrians, but instead are jihadists from around the world, fundamentalist Sunnis who have been recruited, with funding provided mainly by the Sauds who own Saudi Arabia, and by the Thanis who own Qatar, and by the six royal families who own UAE. All of these royal families are themselves fundamentalist Sunnis, and virtually all jihadists except the ones that attack Israel are Sunnis. America’s Presidents lie about “radical Islamic terrorism” by saying that Shiite Iran is the “top state-sponsor of terrorism,”

and even that Iran caused 9/11; but none of that is at all true. Israel gets attacked both by Sunni terrorists and by Shiite terrorists — and Shiite terrorism is exclusively against Israel. By contrast, Sunni terrorism is against U.S., EU, Japan, and virtually every non-Islamic country. Israel is allied with the Sauds, who hate Shiites and have hated them since 1744. And U.S.-allied ‘news’media hide all of these essential facts, from their respective publics, so as to redirect The West’s anti-terrorist anger against Iran as the villain, and away from the Sauds and their friends as the villains. This lie protects the fundamentalist Sunni Governments of Saudi Arabia, UAE, and America’s other Middle Eastern allies — the very countries that are behind the Islamic terrorism that plagues the U.S. and Europe. Syria is instead allied with Iran — not with the Sauds, who are Iran’s sworn enemies. The U.S. Government is allied with Sunni terrorists now, just as it was in 1979 when it worked with the Sauds to create Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

On 21 December 2015, the U.S.-allied British think-tank Center on Religion and Politics, issued a research-report “Ideology and Objectives of the Syrian Rebellion”, and opened: “At least 65,000 militants in Syria share key parts of the ideology of ISIS, with 15 of its rivals ready to take its place if it is defeated. They reported:

Key Findings

Sixty per cent of major Syrian rebel groups are Islamist extremists

Our study of 48 rebel factions in Syria revealed that 33 per cent – nearly 100,000 fighters – have the same ideological objectives as ISIS. If you take into account Islamist groups (those who want a state governed by their interpretation of Islamic law), this figure jumps to 60 per cent.

Unless Assad goes, the Syrian war will go on and spread further

Despite the conflicting ideologies of the rebel groups, 90 per cent of the groups studied hold the defeat of Assad’s regime as a principal objective. Sixty-eight per cent seek the establishment of Islamic law in Syria. In contrast, only 38 per cent have the defeat of ISIS as a stated goal.

Nonetheless, they insisted on overthrowing Bashar al-Assad, based on the incredible claim: “Unless Assad goes, the Syrian war will go on and spread further.” They obviously think that the public — the readers of their report — are extremely stupid. Furthermore, their report ignored that all of these terrorist groups are fundamentalist-Sunni, and that all of the non-ISIS groups are led by Nusra — Syria’s Al Qaeda. The intent there to deceive is clear, but their report that “nearly 100,000 fighters have the same ideological objectives as ISIS” (which likewise is a fundamentalist-Sunni group) was probably true.

If the devil incarnate ruled the U.S. and its allies, then how would they be any different from this? What does “evil” even mean? Syria is trying to rid itself of jihadists, but the U.S. and its allies rely upon the jihadists as the U.S. alliance’s proxy-forces or “boots on the ground” to attain their goal of stealing Syria’s oil and so forth. That’s bad, but The West’s hypocrisy about these matters makes its evil even worse than that, like evil-squared — evil compounded by lies about itself.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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The Turkish Gambit

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The only certainty in war is its intrinsic uncertainty, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could soon chance upon.  One only has to look back on America’s topsy-turvy fortunes in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Syria for confirmation.

The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria has as its defined objective a buffer zone between the Kurds in Turkey and in Syria.  Mr. Erdogan hopes, to populate it with some of the 3 million plus Syrian refugees in Turkey, many of these in limbo in border camps.  The refugees are Arab; the Kurds are not.

Kurds speak a language different from Arabic but akin to Persian.  After the First World War, when the victors parceled up the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, Syria came to be controlled by the French, Iraq by the British, and the Kurdish area was divided into parts in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, not forgetting the borderlands in Iran — a brutal division by a colonial scalpel severing communities, friends and families.  About the latter, I have some experience, having lived through the bloody partition of India into two, and now three countries that cost a million lives.   

How Mr. Erdogan will persuade the Arab Syrian refugees to live in an enclave, surrounded by hostile Kurds, some ethnically cleansed from the very same place, remains an open question.  Will the Turkish army occupy this zone permanently?  For, we can imagine what the Kurds will do if the Turkish forces leave.

There is another aspect of modern conflict that has made conquest no longer such a desirable proposition — the guerrilla fighter.  Lightly armed and a master of asymmetric warfare, he destabilizes. 

Modern weapons provide small bands of men the capacity and capability to down helicopters, cripple tanks, lay IEDs, place car bombs in cities and generally disrupt any orderly functioning of a state, tying down large forces at huge expense with little chance of long term stability.  If the US has failed repeatedly in its efforts to bend countries to its will, one has to wonder if Erdogan has thought this one through.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is another case in point.  Forever synonymous with the infamous butchery at Sabra and Shatila by the Phalange militia facilitated by Israeli forces, it is easy to forget a major and important Israeli goal:  access to the waters of the Litani River which implied a zone of occupation for the area south of it up to the Israeli border.

Southern Lebanon is predominantly Shia and at the time of the Israeli invasion they were a placid group who were dominated by Christians and Sunni, even Palestinians ejected from Israel but now armed and finding refuge in Lebanon.  It was when the Israelis looked like they were going to stay that the Shia awoke.  It took a while but soon their guerrillas were harassing Israeli troops and drawing blood.  The game was no longer worth the candle and Israel, licking its wounds, began to withdraw ending up eventually behind their own border.

A colossal footnote is the resurgent Shia confidence, the buildup into Hezbollah and new political power.  The Hezbollah prepared well for another Israeli invasion to settle old scores and teach them a lesson.  So they were ready, and shocked the Israelis in 2006.  Now they are feared by Israeli troops.   

To return to the present, it is not entirely clear as to what transpired in the telephone call between Erdogan and Trump.  Various sources confirm Trump has bluffed Erdogan in the past.  It is not unlikely then for Trump to have said this time, “We’re leaving.  If you go in, you will have to police the area.  Don’t ask us to help you.”  Is that subject to misinterpretation?  It certainly is a reminder of the inadvertent green light to Saddam Hussein for the invasion of Kuwait when Bush Senior was in office. 

For the time being Erdogan is holding fast and Trump has signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and institutions.  Three Turkish ministers and the Defense and Energy ministries are included.  Trump has also demanded an immediate ceasefire.  On the economic front, he has raised tariffs on steel back to 50 percent as it used to be before last May.  Trade negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey have also been halted forthwith.  The order also includes the holding of property of those sanctioned, as well as barring entry to the U.S.

Meanwhile, the misery begins all over again as thousands flee the invasion area carrying what they can.  Where are they headed?  Anywhere where artillery shells do not rain down and the sound of airplanes does not mean bombs.

Such are the exigencies of war and often its surprising consequences. 

Author’s Note:  This piece appeared originally on Counterpunch.org

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Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?

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On October 7, 2019, the U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from northeast Syria, where the contingent alongside Kurdish militias controlled the vast territories. Trump clarified that the decision is connected with the intention of Turkey to attack the Kurdish units, posing a threat to Ankara.

It’s incredible that the Turkish military operation against Kurds – indeed the territorial integrity of Syria has resulted in the escape of the U.S., Great Britain, and France. These states essentially are key destabilizing components of the Syrian crisis.

Could this factor favourably influence the situation in the country? For instance, after the end of the Iraqi war in 2011 when the bulk of the American troops left the country, the positive developments took place in the lives of all Iraqis. According to World Economics organization, after the end of the conflict, Iraq’s GDP grew by 14% in 2012, while during the U.S. hostilities the average GDP growth was about 5,8%.

Syria’s GDP growth should also be predicted. Not right away the withdrawal of U.S., French, British, and other forces, but a little bit later after the end of the Turkish operation that is not a phenomenon. The Turkish-Kurdish conflict has been going on since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when Kurds started to promote the ideas of self-identity and independence. Apart from numerous human losses, the Turks accomplished nothing. It is unlikely that Ankara would achieve much in Peace Spring operation. The Kurds realize the gravity of the situation and choose to form an alliance with the Syrian government that has undermined the ongoing Turkish offensive.

Under these circumstances, Erdogan could only hope for the creation of a narrow buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border. The withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the region is just a matter of time. However, we can safely say that the Turkish expansion unwittingly accelerated the peace settlement of the Syrian crisis, as the vital destabilizing forces left the country. Besides, the transfer of the oil-rich north-eastern regions under the control of Bashar Assad will also contribute to the early resolution of the conflict.

It remains a matter of conjecture what the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia agreed on during the high-level talks. Let’s hope that not only the Syrians, but also key Gulf states are tired of instability and tension in the region, and it’s a high time to strive for a political solution to the Syrian problem.

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Turkey and the Kurds: What goes around comes around

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Turkey, like much of the Middle East, is discovering that what goes around comes around.

Not only because President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to have miscalculated the fallout of what may prove to be a foolhardy intervention in Syria and neglected alternative options that could have strengthened Turkey’s position without sparking the ire of much of the international community.

But also because what could prove to be a strategic error is rooted in a policy of decades of denial of Kurdish identity and suppression of Kurdish cultural and political rights that was more likely than not to fuel conflict rather than encourage societal cohesion.

The policy midwifed the birth in the 1970s to militant groups like the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which only dropped its demand for Kurdish independence in recent years.

The group that has waged a low intensity insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives has been declared a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Turkish refusal to acknowledge the rights of the Kurds, who are believed to account for up to 20 percent of the country’s population traces its roots to the carving of modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire by its visionary founder, Mustafa Kemal, widely known as Ataturk, Father of the Turks.

It is entrenched in Mr. Kemal’s declaration in a speech in 1923 to celebrate Turkish independence of “how happy is the one who calls himself a Turk,” an effort to forge a national identity for country that was an ethnic mosaic.

The phrase was incorporated half a century later in Turkey’s student oath and ultimately removed from it in 2013 at a time of peace talks between Turkey and the PKK by then prime minister, now president Erdogan.

It took the influx of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s and early 1990s as well as the 1991 declaration by the United States, Britain and France of a no-fly zone in northern Iraq that enabled the emergence of an autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region to spark debate in Turkey about the Kurdish question and prompt the government to refer to Kurds as Kurds rather than mountain Turks.

Ironically, Turkey’s enduring refusal to acknowledge Kurdish rights and its long neglect of development of the pre-dominantly Kurdish southeast of the country fuelled demands for greater rights rather than majority support for Kurdish secession largely despite the emergence of the PKK

Most Turkish Kurds, who could rise to the highest offices in the land s long as they identified as Turks rather than Kurds, resembled Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, whose options were more limited even if they endorsed the notion of a Jewish state.

Nonetheless, both minorities favoured an independent state for their brethren on the other side of the border but did not want to surrender the opportunities that either Turkey or Israel offered them.

The existence for close to three decades of a Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq and a 2017 referendum in which an overwhelming majority voted for Iraqi Kurdish independence, bitterly rejected and ultimately nullified by Iraqi, Turkish and Iranian opposition, did little to fundamentally change Turkish Kurdish attitudes.

If the referendum briefly soured Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish relations, it failed to undermine the basic understanding underlying a relationship that could have guided Turkey’s approach towards the Kurds in Syria even if dealing with Iraqi Kurds may have been easier because, unlike Turkish Kurds, they had not engaged in political violence against Turkey.

The notion that there was no alternative to the Turkish intervention in Syria is further countered by the fact that Turkish PKK negotiations that started in 2012 led a year later to a ceasefire and a boosting of efforts to secure a peaceful resolution.

The talks prompted imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan to publish a letter endorsing the ceasefire, the disarmament and withdrawal from Turkey of PKK fighters, and a call for an end to the insurgency. Mr. Ocalan predicted that 2013 would be the year in which the Turkish Kurdish issues would be resolved peacefully.

The PKK’s military leader, Cemil Bayik, told the BBC three years later that “we don’t want to separate from Turkey and set up a state. We want to live within the borders of Turkey on our own land freely.”

The talks broke down in 2015 against the backdrop of the Syrian war and the rise as a US ally of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State of the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Bitterly opposed to the US-YPG alliance, Turkey demanded that the PKK halt its resumption of attacks on Turkish targets and disarm prior to further negotiations.

Turkey responded to the breakdown and resumption of violence with a brutal crackdown in the southeast of the country and on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

Nonetheless, in a statement issued from prison earlier this year that envisioned an understanding between Turkey and Syrian Kurdish forces believed to be aligned with the PKK, Mr. Ocalan declared that “we believe, with regard to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the problems in Syria should be resolved within the framework of the unity of Syria, based on constitutional guarantees and local democratic perspectives. In this regard, it should be sensitive to Turkey’s concerns.”

Turkey’s emergence as one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s foremost investors and trading partners in exchange for Iraqi Kurdish acquiescence in Turkish countering the PKK’s presence in the region could have provided inspiration for a US-sponsored safe zone in northern Syria that Washington and Ankara had contemplated.

The Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish understanding enabled Turkey  to allow an armed Iraqi Kurdish force to transit Turkish territory in 2014 to help prevent the Islamic State from conquering the Syrian city of Kobani.

A safe zone would have helped “realign the relationship between Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot… The safe-zone arrangements… envision(ed) drawing down the YPG presence along the border—a good starting point for reining in the PKK, improving U.S. ties with Ankara, and avoiding a potentially destructive Turkish intervention in Syria,” Turkey scholar Sonar Cagaptay suggested in August.

The opportunity that could have created the beginnings of a sustainable solution that would have benefitted Turkey as well as the Kurds fell by the wayside with Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria.

In many ways, Mr. Erdogan’s decision to opt for a military solution fits the mould of a critical mass of world leaders who look at the world through a civilizational prism and often view national borders in relative terms.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin pointed the way with his 2008 intervention in Georgia and the annexation in 2014 of Crimea as well as Russia’s stirring of pro-Russian insurgencies in two regions of Ukraine.

Mr. Erdogan appears to believe that if Mr. Putin can pull it off, so can he.

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