The growth of ISIS

Thanks to ISIS or ISIL or Daash as it is also known, the Middle East is in the process of descending into chaos. The USA was warned last year that the growth of ISIS in Syria would lead to a regional conflict, the warning it appears, fell on deaf ears. The result of the growth of ISIS has led to a situation which is only just starting.

As ISIS becomes stronger, it is attracting more and more support from disenfranchised Sunni muslims. How can that be? It is after all a very ruthless and bloody organization. The simple fact is this, if you are loyal to them, they are loyal to you and will look after you. There are many poor Sunni muslims who feel betrayed by their governments, in Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, if you belong to the right tribe or family then you will have a host of economic advantages and opportunities for education, the rest are left to make a living as best they can. These disenfranchised Sunni muslims see what ISIS is doing as an opportunity to change the status quo, to rebalance and redistribute opportunities to those who follow ISIS. Its ambitions are supranational and do not stop at just Syria and Iraq. Many poor Sunni muslims in the entire region are putting their doubts about ISIS to one side if they feel there is the chance it can bring down those governments which ignore so many of the population.

I stand by my opinion, which I wrote about here, that ISIS is ultimately funded by Iran as an instrument of chaos in the Sunni world. Many commentators say it must be Saudi Arabia which is funding ISIS but honestly I don’t see the advantage for them to do this, Saudi is just as worried as its neighbours and is in the process of trying to improve relations with Iran, it knows it will need Iran’s support in the not so distant future as the USA can no longer be relied upon to assist in the Middle East. ISIS is against all Sunni who don’t support it, an example of this is how in Syria it spends more time fighting against moderate Syrian rebels than against the Syrian army of the Alawite/Shia government of Bashar al Assad.

Due to the supranational nature of ISIS and the support it is receiving, it seems a time is coming when many poor Sunni muslims will be drawn to it. What we could be seeing is the start of a revolution spanning many countries but under one banner, a larger scale version of both the French and Bolshevik revolutions. A situation where the ‘Haves’ and ‘Have nots’ of the Sunni world go to war against each other.

This should terrify governments all over the world, with the squeezing and shrinking of the middle classes in many countries around the world,  there is potential for what is developing in the Middle East to happen globally. In the Middle East it will happen in the name of religion but the underlying principles apply everywhere. If the situation in the Middle East continues as I think it will, imagine the impact on oil prices and the global economy. What would happen if such a revolution were to succeed in the Middle East? Might not people of other countries follow suit as the impact on the global economy global shatters lives and security on a much larger scale than happened in the financial crisis of 2007 or the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

It is now one hundred years since the assassination of Duke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, which rapidly led to the start of the First World War. Today, the global economy is very fragile, many countries are competing to increase their spheres of influence, nationalism is on the rise, the middle classes are being squeezed from all sides. We are living in a global tinderbox, it only needs a small spark to set it alight, as did those 2 shots fired on 28 June 1914.

Please share if you found this article interesting.

Advertisements

Syrian rebels make progress on the southern front

After a year and a half long Syrian army siege, rebels of the Southern Front break through the blockade of strategically important Nawa to join with rebels trapped inside.

Syrian Rebels

Syrian Rebels

Nawa, population of approximately 50,000, lies 40 km north-west of Daraa, which is on the Syria/Jordan border. My Syrian contact who is close to the “Southern Front,” a loose coalition of moderate rebel groups of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), said that after their defeat, the Syrian army then tried to retake the city 25 times in one month before it finally gave up. He also said that for the last year, the Syrian army has not been able to retake any of the cities it has lost in the south. Strategically Nawa is very important — it is at the head of an important crossroads that leads to Daraa in the south and the Israeli border to the west. Nearby, to the east, rebels also have control of the cities Al Sheikh Maskin and Izraa, the two main highways that run up the country from the south to Damascus pass through these two cities. This has created a new strategic front, which the rebels hope to use as they attempt to push even further north toward the capital some 85 km away.

fsa controlled area

fsa controlled area

 

 

 

 

 

 

Asked if the rebels had received weapons from Jordan to aid them in breaking the siege and subsequent defense against Syrian army attempts to retake the city, he said they had been given some help from Jordan but most of the weapons came from captured Syrian army positions and bases.

One of the main challenges facing the moderate rebels of the FSA in the south is the rise of extreme Islamist groups. So far they are not a major problem but could become so in future if they have access to significant funding and weapons. In contrast, the north and east of Syria have major problems with extremist group ISIS who control large areas. There, the FSA has two fights on its hands, one with the Syrian army and the other with ISIS. The southern FSA is working hard not to let this happen. Israel is also determined not to see extremists take power in areas along its border with Syria, on occasion it has helped the FSA secure areas in order to protect its security. Jordan too, is working with moderate rebels, such as Bashar al Zoubi, leader of the Al Yarmouk division, who I have met on several occasions. Jordanian and Israeli cooperation in areas of mutual interest is due to the fear of strengthening Islamist groups becoming a major security threat to the two countries. They will do whatever is necessary to prevent that happening even if it means having to help the FSA.

 

 

 

Ukraine: War has started

You should mark today, 2nd May 2014. This is the day that the Ukraine/Russia crisis escalated into inevitable war.

I have been writing about this situation for a while now as you can see in a previous article I wrote here. Today in the Eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk, the Ukrainians have been on a major operation to take back control of key city buildings from pro Russian supporters. There are early reports of many of these Russian supporters being killed or captured. I’m not here to talk about the rights or wrongs of the situation, I’m simply going to talk about what is going to happen next and some of the wider implications.

Now that pro Russian supporters have been pushed back in some areas, they are either Russian military or trained by Russian military. Considering some of the heavy weapons they have been using today, ordinary civilians they most definitely are not. The next step will be for them to integrate into the civilian population from where they will attack the regular Ukrainian army, provoking them to shoot back. This will give the appearance that the Ukrainian army is attacking unarmed civilians and the final excuse Russia needs to intervene. I have always felt this is the Russian objective, the armed Russian separatists are being used by Russia as little more than a provocation to test Ukrainian resolve, the next aim is to make it look like civilians are being attacked. When this happens, things are going to get quite loud.

What is happening is as much about the USA wanting this situation to develop as a way to make Vladimir Putin pay for his support of Iran and Bashar al Assad of Syria and stymy their power. The USA is not free of guilt when it comes to how the situation in Ukraine has developed. The Russian economy is very fragile, as I have written before, its banking system is on the verge of collapse as it is being drained of liquidity, the price of oil has fallen so the income from that is not enough to support Putin with the money he needs to pay the people closest to him and maintain him in power. We are looking at an explosive situation. A war with Ukraine is a useful tool for Putin to fan the fires of Russian nationalism and keep the minds of the general population away from the real reasons why their country is about to hit very severe problems. The Russia/Ukraine situation is as much about Geo-politics as it is about domestic politics. This is part of the game that goes back to the cold war, Russia and the USA can’t help but antagonize each other but this time things will not settle into a cold war. The world has changed and the nature of war with it. Ukraine is being used as a proxy in order for both of these enormous countries to challenge each other.

It is the same situation in Syria, which became a proxy war a while ago. On the one hand there is Russia and Iran who support Bashar al Assad and on the other there is the USA and Saudi Arabia and even more importantly in the near future, Turkey. I wrote about how Turkey is going to start a war with Syria here You can be sure that Turkey is waiting for the Ukraine crisis to escalate even further before going in, the way things are going it will be soon. It already has a heavily armoured brigade inside Syria, supposedly to simply secure the tomb of Suleyman Shah the grandfather of Osman 1, the founder of the Ottoman empire. Their real objective is to take over northern territories of Syria and create a Sunni-Shia Muslim wedge but you will have to read my article I linked to, I don’t see any point in covering the same ground, in depth, twice.

As an aside and I wrote about this before, the Orthodox church under Patriarch Kirill is deeply nationalistic and keen to see ‘Holy Russia’ have Ukraine fully re-integrated with Russia. The Russian Orthodox church and Putin are like peas in a pod, they are so close in their ambitions. Putin and Kirill are long standing friends. I wrote about it here. I think you will find it interesting.

The point is this. What is happening between Ukraine and Russia is linked to so many other things. There will be global implications to this crisis. There are so many things I have yet to show you but the time is not yet right. Watch this space.

Please take some time to read the articles I have linked to, they will give you a deeper insight when taken into consideration with this article.

 

 

A Potential New War. Part 2

Back at the end of March I wrote about the high possibility that Turkey would start a conflict with Syria. You can see it here I began hearing that there was a very good chance of this happening about 6 months ago. As of a couple of days ago there has been an interesting development which brings this likelihood even closer.

Turkey has sent a protection force comprising of main battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers and some 300 troops to protect the tomb of Suleyman Shah. This tomb is the supposed resting place of the grand father of Osman 1, the founder of the Ottoman Empire. For the moment they say they are there simply to protect it from damage, but damage by whom? Seemingly not the Islamic extremist group ISIL, Erdogan said and I quote “Right now, the issue is not about ISIL” and this protection force is only a few hundred metres from the Islamist base camp in the area. Something else must be afoot.

As I said in my first article on this topic, Turkey is becoming more belligerent and expansionist, it would like to reclaim some of the land it lost at the end of the Ottoman Empire. The northern territories of Syria are to be honest, ripe for the taking. It would appear that If Turkey does try to reclaim territory it will have the backing of the USA. Another important point is the fact that historically under the Ottoman empire, Turkey acted as the spiritual leader for Sunni Muslims, when the empire fell after the 1st world war Saudi Arabia stepped into that role with its own brand of Islam, Wahabism or Salafism. Turkey still believes that it should be the global leader for Muslims. Over time it is looking for ways to re-assert its influence and expanding into Syria is one way of starting to re-balance the Salafi influence as well as constrict the movement of the Shia Muslims of Iran who control Bashar al Assad and his regime.

Looking at the long term situation in Syria, things are looking quite mixed for Bashar al Assad. While he has been able to consolidate his grip on the region from Damascus up towards Homs and then on to the coastal areas of Latakia, including the strategically important port of Tartous, elsewhere in the country things are not looking so good for his regime. In the south around the Daraa region, moderate rebels under the command of Bashar al Zoubi of the Al Yarmouk Division, whom I met a couple of times are being able to create an area which is slowly pushing back the Syrian army. They are working on creating an autonomous area and until now there have been no major problems with Al Nusra and other extremists. It must be mentioned though that Jordan is being very firm about which areas the moderate rebels are permitted to try and take, I have this information directly from my contacts in the Al Yarmouk Division.

In the north, the extremists hold a lot more ground and the regime is regularly dropping barrel bombs from helicopters into civillian areas, particularly in Aleppo. In Menbij, ISIS are wreaking havoc, killing anybody who stands in their way. The moderate rebels in the north have very few resources and are not able to put up much resistance. The entrance of Turkey into northern Syria, ostensibly to protect the tomb could well be a precursor to a full on military assault to push out the extremists and annex the land. The moderates would be in no position to stop them and so it seems neither will Assad.

I’m going to join up a few dots now and see where this leads us. Assad has 2 main backers, Iran and Russia. Without these, Assad would have fallen a long time ago. The situation now is that Iran is financially in difficulty, it has just cut fuel subsidies for its people, the price of fuel has jumped overnight by nearly 75% for Iranians. The government in Tehran would not have done this unless it really needed the money, the problem is the Iranian population are also suffering, there is very high unemployment and under employment. Fuel cost rises will feed into inflation, food and heating will become more expensive etc. It is costing Iran a fortune to continue its support of Assad. Then we have Russia, many people don’t realize just how financially fragile Russia is at the moment, its banking sector is facing an enormous problem of bad loans. The crisis with Ukraine will probably lead to sanctions being put on Russian banks cutting them off from the global financial system. All this is keeping Putin busy, will he also have the resources to continue supporting Assad? Time will tell.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote that the result of the war in Syria would end up with the division of the country. The revolution has been hijacked, the people’s popular uprising along with their desire to regain their dignity and security after 40 years of the Assad’s family rule of the country, all has come to nothing, their country is in ruins while half the population is displaced. The reasons for this are shockingly simple. If the Syrian Revolution had been allowed to succeed then many countries would have lost their political influence in one of the most strategically important countries in the Middle East. Iran would have lost all its investment in Syria as well as having its hegemonic ambitions curtailed. Any new people’s government might or might not have been ambivalent towards Israel so the USA and Israel didn’t want to take the chance of the people succeeding in their revolution, just in case. Russia would lose its only port in the Mediterranean. There would be much to be lost for many countries if the people had been able to decide for themselves how they want their country to be governed.

Instead, we now have a situation where international geo-politics prefers a solution that divides the country and balances the power of Sunni and Shia Muslims across a huge swathe of the Middle East. In the north Turkey will take control of large areas, In the south Jordan will have control over the southern liberated region, using the moderate rebels there to do the fighting to create such a zone, as is happening today. Assad if he can hang on and I think he will, will continue to hold territory from Damascus up to the coastal region. Of course if he can hold on he will be much weaker than before. Essentially what this will do is create a new Sunni/Shia balance. Sunni Turkey and Jordan controlled areas to the north and south. Shia controlled areas from Damascus to the coast sandwiched between the Sunni. This division will enhance the security of Israel and curtail the hegemonic ambitions of Iran. The only way for this to succeed is if both Russia and Iran are sufficiently weakened and are unable to support Assad as before. Therefore I would propose that the current Russia/Ukraine crisis is part of the strategy, Russia will be destabilized soon, dangerously so. Iran is suffering economically, the end of fuel subsidies is a good indicator of the pain, can it really afford to continue supporting Assad and lending money to him to buy Russian military hardware? Hopefully now you can see how all this ties in with Turkey’s movement into Syria and what we can expect in the not too distant future.

As I said in a recent article, conditions in the world are very similar to those shortly before the outbreak of WW1. Watch this space.

Available on Amazon. Syria: Refugees and Rebels

Click the picture to be taken directly to my book on Amazon.

Syria: Refugees and Rebels Book Cover

Syria: Refugees and Rebels Book Cover

My book is 21.6 x 21.6 cm or 8.5 x 8.5 in perfect bound softback with a laminated cover. 102 pages with an introduction of why I went to Syria as well as a brief history of the Syrian Revolution. Images are a combination of Colour and Black and White. The photos are in 3 sections, The Refugees, Life in Aleppo, The Rebels

A little more about the Author and book below:

Book Publicity

Book Publicity

Buy my book. Syria: Refugees and Rebels

Buy Now Button

Syria: Refugees and Rebels Book Cover

Syria: Refugees and Rebels Book Cover

Book Publicity

Book Publicity

My book is 21.6 x 21.6 cm or 8.5 x 8.5 in perfect bound softback with a laminated cover. 102 pages with an introduction of why I went to Syria as well as a brief history of the Syrian Revolution. Images are a combination of Colour and Black and White. The photos are in 3 sections, The Refugees, Life in Aleppo, The Rebels

Price in USD is $26.99 +$5 for postage. Please allow up to 2 weeks for delivery to USA/Europe, it could take longer to other countries. Click the ‘Buy Now’ button will take you to a PayPal payment page. When you arrive there, if you don’t use PayPal you can click the link ‘Don’t have a PayPal account?’ from where you will be able to pay with any major credit card.

If you prefer to use Amazon, you can buy my book from them here

Syria: Refugees and Rebels. Almost ready for reprint

I have set myself up as a publisher and am now working with ‘IngramSpark’ to print my work. As a result my photo documentary book is going to be available worldwide through the major book sellers. Pricing details coming soon but in the UK the price will be £19.99 plus post.

Syria: Refugees and Rebels Book Cover

Syria: Refugees and Rebels Book Cover

 

Collectors of Photographic Images

I’m considering making my photography from Syria and the refugee camps of Lebanon and Jordan available for sale. I don’t work with stock photography agencies and very few of my images are online.

Later this month I am invited to present my work and talk about it at the Refugee Studies Centre of Oxford University for an international conference called Refugee Voices on the global refugee crisis with a particular focus on Syria.

For any collectors of photography who are interested in having the chance to own documentary images related to Syria, which have not been spread all over the internet but only in a very few cases here on my blog or a single specific online article, I’m offering the chance to collect a unique picture.

I am looking for feedback so I can judge the level of interest. If the interest is sufficient I will make available one signed image, single edition. There will never be another of that image printed apart from for my own personal collection. If interest continues I will make further images available but these will also be strictly single edition images. The price will be US $1000 per printed and signed image. Each is 45cm or 17.7 inches along its longest side.

The pictures are unique, they were taken using high quality equipment and with a strong artistic eye. There are not so many people who have had the same opportunity as me to capture these images. This is the opportunity to own something that is photographically unique. Here is a link to some of the very few pictures I have put online.

Below is an image I am making available to buy and as a way of testing demand. If you are interested then contact me through my contact page.

FSA fighters. Front-line Aleppo

FSA fighters. Front-line Aleppo

Russia, Crimea and the Eastern Orthodox Church Lead Way To War

The Crimea region of Ukraine is now under de facto Russian control. It is a simple fact on the ground. The rights and wrongs of this are for others to discuss, I’m more interested in the reasons why and the possible consequences.

As I was going through various news sources over the weekend, what else can I do after a knee operation, I saw a picture that stopped me in my tracks. It shouldn’t surprise me, the role of religion in politics is hardly new. The image I saw, link here, was of Eastern Orthodox priests blessing Russian troops as they take control of Crimea. I have been thinking about this image and what it means.

Outside the Orthodox community many people don’t realize just how powerful the Orthodox church is and how much power and influence it has in Russian politics. Its Patriarch, Kirill Gundyaev and Vladimir Putin have been forging strong links for more than a decade, even though there is an official separation of Church and State in the Russian Constitution. Kirill is a Russian nationalist through and through, believing that Russia should play a major role, even a dominant one, in world affairs as part of his belief in  ‘Russian Civilization’, coincidentally when Putin was campaigning to become Russian President in 2012 he put the idea of ‘Russian Civilization’ at the heart of his campaign, something he was influenced to do by Patriarch Kirill perhaps? Why not, the two men have been close for years and Kirill is very good at influencing political thinking.

As a result, the Orthodox church has tremendous power, so when events erupted in Ukraine one can imagine that Kirill with his very strong nationalistic tendencies would have been eager to use the opportunity to encourage Putin to take back control of the Crimea, historically a part of Russia. Add to this the long term disputes between the Orthodox church and the Vatican over property and influence in Ukraine and you begin to realize how the current situation is playing into the hands of the Orthodox. For a thousand years the Church and State have been different sides of the same coin. Only during the Soviet period was the link broken but after the collapse of The Soviet Union actions were quickly taken to rebuild the power and influence of the Church. Although never proven, as any inquiry has always been blocked, there is strong circumstantial evidence that Patriarch Kirill had very close links to the KGB and Politburo in the days when the Church was heavily controlled. Kirill is known as an astute politician and diplomat, as a very worldly man he knows how to use difficult circumstances to his advantage. The strategic thinking of the Orthodox Church would have had them urgently looking at ways to take advantage of the unrest in Ukraine.

While good for the Orthodox church, the risks to Putin are high. This is one of the clever games of Kirill, influence a leader to take action and if it goes wrong he can come out of the situation looking relatively innocent with the knowledge that a political backlash against him would be difficult to implement because of the Church’s influence over the majority of the Russian population. If on the other hand things go wrong for Putin and his government in their approach to Ukraine then the Russian economy is going to suffer, it will be trusted even less than before and the Cold War could easily return. Putin’s pride would also take a very personal hit as the country would blame him directly if things go wrong.

The situation in Ukraine is still developing, as of time of writing no shots have yet been fired. While Russia has moved troops into the Crimea region there are many questions about overall Russian military readiness, it has an extremely top heavy command structure and the numbers of soldiers ready to fight is less than many suspect. Add to the fact that a lot of Russian military hardware is less than reliable and you begin to understand the gamble that Putin is taking. There is a part of me that wonders if maybe he was encouraged to act against his better judgement by the Orthodox church which supplies him with so much of his popular support through their preaching from the pulpit. Looking at the situation now it would seem that Russia would like to provoke Ukraine into firing the first shot, but whoever fires the first shot the consequences for the Ruble will be dramatic. Ukraine on the other hand is also on the verge of bankruptcy, its options are limited unless the promise of funds made by the West come to fruition. Don’t under estimate the Ukrainians, they have been developing a reputation as an arms exporter. When the Soviet Union collapsed they inherited a lot of factories that make military hardware. A lot of these were closed but what they have done is improved on the designs of Soviet era hardware and then selling it, their quality control is recognized as being better than that of Russia, hence one of the reasons why they have been able to successfully develop their exports. Ukrainians also have a strong backbone and will not give up without a fight if that is what they feel they must do.

The situation is still very fluid, the stakes on both sides are extremely high and the Orthodox Church in Russia is influencing the situation more than most people realize. The next 24-48 hours are going to be interesting.

Situation Ukraine, potential consequence Syria

The situation that is unfolding in Ukraine has unfortunately a very strong chance of becoming a real war, leading to the suffering of many innocent people. If that happens then Russia will be deeply involved. Here is a thought, for Russia, the Ukraine is much more important than Syria. If Russia needs to commit huge military and financial resources into keeping its control of Ukraine then it will not have enough resources to be able to also support the Syrian Regime. Russia is the biggest holder of Ukraine debt and the unfolding situation has had the effect of devaluing the Russian Rouble. If the USA agrees with Russia that it can do as it wants in Ukraine, then the situation will become very interesting. However the fact remains that Russia simply does not have the resources to take on two major situations at the same time. I am saying this with the awareness that I could be totally wrong but could what is happening in Ukraine have been provoked at this time as a way of weakening Russia’s ability to support Bashar al Assad?

Russia is not stupid, she should also realize what is happening, that she is being given the choice between maintaining her gas distribution network in Ukraine that supplies Europe or supporting Bashar al Assad.

Watch this space.