The plight of Iranian dissident refugees in Iraq

While the world is focused on the battle against ISIS (Daesh), there is another situation in Iraq which has in general passed under the radar of most people who are watching events in the Middle East. That is the extreme hardship and in certain cases summary execution of Iranian dissidents who are living in prison like refugee camps in Iraq.

This situation was brought to my attention by an associate of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). While I don’t get involved in politics, the humanitarian situation is one which needs to be spoken about. First there needs to be some background to bring things into context. The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) a major member of the National Council  of Resistance of Iran began in the 1960’s as a group involved in armed struggle against the Shah of Iran. After his overthrow in 1979, PMOI sided briefly with Ayatollah Khomeini the new ruler of Iran. However, a power struggle broke out between PMOI and Khomeni and the Revolutionary Guards, resulting in street battles. When the Iran-Iraq war broke out, Saddam Hussein gave them refuge in Iraq from where they launched military operations into Iran.

In 2003, PMOI renounced all violence and disarmed itself. Since 1985 these Iranian dissidents have been living in Camp Ashraf in Iraq. They basically built it from nothing, a city of some 14 square miles and home to thousands of people. It has all the features of a modern city and is very well looked after. In 2004 the US led Multi-National Force – Iraq (MNF-I) formally recognized all the residents of Camp Ashraf as “Protected Persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention [Coalition Statement, July 2004], and U.S. forces took up their protection. So what went wrong and how did the humanitarian crisis develop?

Camp Ashraf

Camp Ashraf

In 2009, responsibility for the protection of the residents of Camp Ashraf was handed over to Iraq. That same year, Iraq launched an attack against it and again in 2011. The first attack killed 11 and wounded some 500, the second attack killed 36 as well as wounding many hundreds. There have also been cases of summary executions carried out against certain residents. Since 2009, Ashraf has essentially been placed under siege with basic supplies heavily restricted. Considering the fact that they are protected under the Fourth Geneva Convention the question must be asked, why has this been allowed to happen?

The answer is quite simple, the Iraqi government under then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was under the direct influence of the Iranian government. Iran has never forgiven the people of Camp Ashraf for standing against it, even if they renounced all armed resistance years before. Using the Iraqi government, Iran is determined to make them pay. The situation has not changed since the creation of a new government in Iraq under Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Iranian influence is still directly felt.

To make matters worse, in 2012 residents of Camp Ashraf began to be forcibly evicted and transferred to Camp Liberty, an ex US base in Baghdad. The conditions there are horrendous, it has been turned into little more than a prison camp, food and medicine is restricted, young and old alike are treated as prisoners. They have lost their freedom of movement to go outside the camp. The Iraqi government has forbidden the use of heavy machinery which could be used to help them build homes and move heavy items. It would appear the government wants to humiliate them as much as possible.

Camp Liberty

Camp Liberty

The question has to be, how is it possible that these people, who have personal letters of protection from the United Nations, giving them protection under the Fourth Convention are allowed to be treated this way, when they were doing no harm to anybody? Yes, they want to see change in Iran, but the armed struggle was given up a long time ago. Camp Ashraf had developed into a modern city where people lived quietly and had a good quality of life. Now they are being kept in a ghetto.

The USA has certainly abdicated its responsibility to these people. It was the US which made an investigation of every single resident to see if they were involved in armed struggle and it was the US which then took on the responsibility of protecting them. Handing over this responsibility, it must have known what would happen as the Iraqi government is so much under the influence of Iran. The US and the UN have effectively turned their backs on these people for purely political reasons. Mainly to keep negotiations on track with Iran as well as its usefulness in balancing the power of Saudi Arabia in the region, add to this the need to keep the Iraqi government on side in the “war on terror”. So what, if a few thousand men women and children have to suffer as a result of political expediency!

 This article is also cross-posted at DigitalJournal.com

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USA being sucked into confrontation with Islamic State

Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS or ISIL or Da’ish as it is known in arabic  is doing a good job of drawing the West into the quagmire of conflict in the Middle East. A year ago, after chemical gas attacks on civilians in Syria, it seemed for a brief moment the USA and UK would approve missile strikes against the Syrian regime and try to bring an end to the conflict. That has not happened and the death toll in Syria now stands at over 190,000 people, mostly civilians. As always, it is the innocent who suffer most in war.

A year later and and here we are again, IS (Islamic State) attacked Christians and Yazidis in Iraq, and then there was the execution of James Foley by a probably British member of IS. This time, the USA is carrying out airstrikes against IS positions to help local Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces on the ground. It seems inevitable that at some point there will be a USA led armed force entering Iraq, “boots on the ground” Not only this but maybe also airstrikes against IS targets inside Syria. It is a slippery slope lined with many dangers.

If this happens, many more young muslims from around the world will flock to Iraq and Syria to take up the fight. As is often reported, there is support around the world by disenfranchised young muslims, not only in the UK, USA and Europe but also in Indonesia and other countries with muslim populations, IS has a global network. This network is funding the travel of those who want to join the Islamic State and has been preparing for a long time for this situation

One question, why are Russia and Iran, who support Bashar al Assad of Syria, not also talking about taking the fight to IS in Syria? They seem happy to allow the USA to get sucked into this situation. It seems to me that once the West gets involved, it will be very hard to extricate itself. It was Assad who allowed ISIS to build up in Syria, the Syrian government even buys oil from them. Assad wanted the war to become sectarian and extremist and in so doing put himself in the position of being the only person left in Syria who can work with the West against IS in Syria, thereby regaining international legitimacy, a clever and callous tactic that has so far cost the lives of over 190,000 Syrians and created millions of refugees.

As for Iraq, they don’t seem to be able to form any sort of unified government which shares power evenly between the Shia, Sunni and Kurds. If the West were to go into Iraq without the agreement of a newly formed and unified government, it will be seen as western imperialism, which will drive even more Iraqi’s into the arms of IS. The Shia of Iraq are forming many militia groups and they seem to be well equipped and trained, many of them spent time in Lebanon in Hezbollah training camps. The scene is very much set for there to be general conflict between Sunni and Shia, not only with IS.

Into all this the West is talking about becoming more deeply involved, citing the threat of IS terrorists targeting the USA and UK etc.This is an unwinnable war and one that involvement can only make worse. The West is trying to win a war against an idea, a perverted idea but one with very deep roots, an idea which appeals to large numbers, millions of disenfranchised young muslims around the world.

Middle East crisis. Region on fire

Now it is finally recognized that Iran and Syria helped ISIS get started, it is time to look at what happens next in the MIddle East crisis as the storm clouds continue gathering.

The Middle East is on fire and the speed with which events have happened has taken many by surprise. There is a real potential for further escalation of the chaos which is engulfing the region. ISIS control a vast swath of territory which crosses the border between Syria and Iraq. The fighting in this area is growing in intensity. Add to this the current war between Hamas of Gaza and Israel and it becomes clear we are living in critical times.

Among all this chaos, the most stable country in the region is Iran. It is a country with a very rich culture and history. They are not Arab, they are Persian, there is a huge difference in mentality between the two. The Persians are strategic, long term planners and extremely good game players. They understand the power and effectiveness of well run institutions when it comes to managing the population. The leadership in Tehran is also totally amoral and ruthless. One fact which escapes many is this, although the leadership portrays itself as being very religious, it is not. Rather it uses religion as a way of uniting Shia muslims under a common banner.

Against this background, Iran together with the Assad regime in Syria permitted and helped ISIS to grow. The objective being the creation of chaos in Sunni muslim regions of Syria and Iraq. In Syria it allows Bashar al Assad to now portray himself as the only possible stabilizing force in the country, that all rebels are terrorists, taking attention away from what was a popular uprising and using extremists to create a sectarian conflict. The vast majority of fighting by ISIS in Syria has been against moderate rebels in Sunni areas rather than the Syrian regime which is Alawite and Shia. In Iraq ISIS has been focusing most of its efforts on Sunni areas of the country, now it is concentrating a lot of attention on Baghdad and its environs.

While Iran and Syria helped ISIS become established this is not to say they have total control over the organization. Recently Syria has engaged ISIS fighters in battle as have Iranian forces in Iraq. They are not engaging ISIS at a huge level but this is part of the play by both Syria and Iran to create an image that they are the good guys, needed to help combat the expansionism of ISIS.

There are conversations happening that the USA should consider working with Iran to combat ISIS. Not in the sense of boots on the ground, although the neo-cons would love for this to happen and may yet get their way, but in other more discreet ways. If this were to happen it would work entirely in Iran’s favour. Allow me to explain why. By so doing, it will mean that Iran becomes accepted as the dominant power in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia on the other hand will be humiliated and forced to accept the situation. Most of this has already happened and is the reason why KSA is working to improve its relations with Iran. The other part of Iranian strategy is to continue using ISIS to create chaos in Sunni areas while fighting them in areas that have Shia populations. It really is playing both sides of the coin as it did in the past, when it allowed Sunni group Ansar al-Islam, the fore-runner of Al Qaeda in Iraq to pass through its territory. Yes, Shia Iran has cooperated many times in the past with Sunni extremist groups. Now the fighting is coming closer to Baghdad on a daily basis, with its mixed Sunni/Shia population we can expect to see Iranian involvement increasing as it works to show it is the good guy by helping resist the group it created. The leadership of ISIS understand this but the foot soldiers of ISIS who are fighting on the ground have no idea they are being used.

To be honest, there is very little the USA can directly do about ISIS. If they put boots on the ground then all Sunni muslims, extremist or not, would be against them. The memory of American troops in Iraq and the mess they created is still very much an open wound.

In the longer term the prognosis for the Middle East crisis is one of increasing volatility. The war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza will probably lead to a 3rd intifida, there are already calls for this to happen. The current conflict is different, with wide coverage on social media of what is happening in Gaza there is a lot of outrage being directed at the Israeli government, unfortunately there is a lot of anti Semitism about now too, many people now equate being a Jew with being a murderer. What is happening in Gaza, the shedding of innocent blood of women and children is on the hands of the Knesset and the IDF. What the fallout of the current situation will be is hard to say exactly, but this situation will not be allowed to die down as in times past. Social media has put the images of what is happening in the minds of everybody around the world in a way which has never before happened. When global public opinion is focused on the actions of one country then you can be sure there will be consequences.

ISIS will continue creating chaos in Syria and Iraq but will not stop there. Long term objectives are to spread chaos to KSA with the objective of capturing Mecca. They will also have Jerusalem in their sights as they consider it to be one of their holy places. They are not worried about triggering an even bigger conflict in the region, they believe they are doing the work of Allah even if that were to lead to world war 3

All the while Iran will remain aloof as it gives the appearance of having no involvement in the creation of chaos. The only way for this to change would be if some destabilizing situation were to unexpectedly develop in Iran. My personal view of this is to expect the unexpected.

Finally Turkey, it is the wild card of the region. It is slowly progressing down the road to becoming an authoritarian regime. It also allowed ISIS to import heavy weapons from Libya through its ports and across its borders into Syria. Turkey is a majority Sunni population country which until the fall of the Ottoman empire was the spiritual leader for Sunni muslims worldwide. It is a well understood fact that Turkey misses its glory days. As the Middle East crisis develops and instability increases, it will pay to watch Turkey very closely.

The outlook for the Middle East is tempestuous to say the least. As always it is the ordinary people who will suffer the most. While there is the possibility of the short-term situation leading to increased terrorism threats around the world, the current situation means that those who go to fight for ISIS are concentrating most of their energy on expanding the Islamic State that covers territory in Syria and Iraq. For the time being they are generally too busy where they are now to concentrate on terrorist attacks in Europe or the USA. However, as time goes on, the threat level will increase as they consolidate power, it will become necessary for some sort of direct international intervention, more likely than not under the auspices of the United Nations. The only way to deal with a supranational threat will be via supranational organizations.

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Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Unanswered questions.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is without doubt causing a stir in the Sunni muslim world but what do we actually know about him? Not a lot actually, but what has been made public raises certain questions.

Let’s start with what is publicly known about him. He was born in 1971 and went on to research Islamic Studies at PhD level in Baghdad. When the USA and Britain invaded Iraq in 2003 he was still studying and not thought to be part of any militant group. By late 2005 however, he was captured on suspicion of being a mid-ranking figure in the Sunni insurgency against US and British forces. While in detention he was described as being inconspicuous, bad but not one of the worst and generally a nobody. He was released in 2009. Until very recently there were only two pictures of him in the public domain, then suddenly he appeared in public to give a sermon at a major mosque in Mosul. While the video of him speaking is still to be verified, most analysts believe it is the real thing. Finally there is the claim, yet to be challenged, that he is a direct descendent of the prophet Muhammad.

What permitted Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to go from being a middle ranking, inconspicuous figure with no real stand out qualities to being the head of an organization, which is not only totally ruthless against those who oppose it but also highly effective at the practicalities of governing, running utilities, schools, hospitals and other social services? ISI before it became ISIS was a part of Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda while well funded, have never been able to demonstrate this level of efficiency of organization, to put it simply it isn’t part of Arab culture to operate in this way. Where does this ability come from?

I have always maintained that Iran is supporting ISIS as a way of creating chaos in the Sunni muslim world. As yet the Shia dominated south-east of Iraq has been almost untouched by ISIS, which is unusual considering how much ISIS hate the Shia. But there is another avenue which could also be worth considering. When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was captured by American forces in 2005 he was basically a nobody with no major ambitions. Could it be that he was turned? Not only turned but given training and support in the period leading up to his becoming leader of ISI as it was then known. Until making his face publicly known at the mosque in Mosul he has always kept his face hidden, very few in ISIS had any idea of what he looked like as the two pictures of him were several years old and only released at the beginning of this year. Under these circumstances it would have been relatively easy for him to travel and meet people without being recognized.

Why would I think such a thing could be possible. To do that we need to look at the current situation. The USA is refusing to be drawn back into the Middle East, starting with Syria it has refused to take action despite being warned that by so doing the growth of extremism and terrorism would be inevitable. It seems this has been the plan for a while, by allowing the growth of ISIS a new balance of power between Sunni/Shia is created in the Middle East. Actually balance is the wrong word, what is being created are the conditions for permanent fighting between different groups in the regions with no group supposedly strong enough to win an outright victory. This is the “balance” which will arise from the situation. At the same time it could well be that Iran and the USA have a tacit agreement for it to take over as the dominant power in the Middle East. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has been sidelined to a certain extent by the USA forcing it into a situation where it is trying to improve its relations with Iran as a way of protecting itself from tsunami of chaos which is threatening to engulf the region. Now that KSA knows America won’t come riding to the rescue, it is being pushed into making new alliances, including with Israel, as can be seen from the way Israel, Jordan and KSA have been collaborating regarding Syria.

I would suggest that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is little more than an instrument being used to create chaos. This chaos has the possibility to weaken many governments and countries in the region. A chaos which is only just beginning. While the vast majority of mainstream muslims and scholars mock the claim to be Caliph by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi it does not take into account thoughts of millions of young muslims, mostly men but also women, not only in the region but around the world. Many of them feel disenfranchised, ignored by their governments, having limited education and employment possibilities. For them, the ideology of an Islamic State is very attractive, to this they will be looking as a way of finding an identity. You can be sure that at this moment many young muslim men and women are seriously considering going to Iraq, that quiet conversations are happening in mosques all around the world. There is evidence to suggest ISIS is financially helping those who want to join the Jihad in Syria/Iraq. These networks are often connected to mosques as certain individuals use them to identify those who can be convinced to join Jihad. It is extreme but considering the danger posed by the threat of international terrorism, ironically allowed to develop by the USA, the best way to counteract this threat would be to close all mosques around the world for a period of time. Could it ever happen? Expect the unexpected.

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ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Who is it good for?

I know that many will disagree with what I am about to write here but I want to give you another point of view to think about. When you dig under the surface of what ISIS is doing you will see it is of huge benefit to certain countries.

When I talk to contacts in the middle east, all come to the conclusion that Iran is behind the incredible growth and expansion of ISIS. Kurdish media also agrees that it has Iranian backing (Kurdish News Article in English)

ISIS began their expansion in Syria, mostly in the north and east of the country. When the Free Syrian Army fought back against them in the winter, many ISIS fighters ran for cover in Syrian regime held areas before they were able to fight back and regain lost territory. Also, what is interesting is the fact that ISIS are not trying to push towards Damascus, rather they are trying to take over territory held by the FSA. They also paint their headquarters with their colours and have huge flags waving above, yet not once have they been bombarded by the Syrian airforce. So many of my contacts in Syria have told me about this. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence coming from the modus operandi of ISIS, that it is working in collaboration with the Syrian government, which itself is backed by Iran. If ISIS is collaborating with Bashar al Assad and Iran is his main supporter then there must be a connection, ISIS have to get their funding from somewhere and Saudi Arabia will not support a group which is helping Assad.

Then we come to Iraq. The Shia majority government of Nouri Maliki is known to have very close ties to Iran. The last few years have been spent buying the latest military hardware from the USA so that it could defend itself after the US army fully withdrew. On paper it has, or should I now say had, a standing army of about 900,000, yet when fewer than 10,000 ISIS fighters advanced on Mosul, the second city of Iraq, they fled, leaving behind all their equipment and bases. They didn’t even try to resist, despite the huge advantage in numbers and weapons. Then at this time of crisis the government couldn’t even get enough votes to declare an official state of emergency. Neither did they ask the Kurds to send their well armed and experienced Peshmerga forces to help. Everything about this is suspicious. Considering how close Maliki is to Iran could it be that it was all a plan, a way of being able to arm ISIS with all the latest military hardware?

But why would Iran, which is Shia, help an extremist Sunni group? The answer is simple, to create havoc and chaos in Sunni dominated areas. Over time you will see that ISIS will not concentrate on trying to capture Shia areas. Baghdad is mixed between Sunni and Shia so they may try to take it but it is unlikely. However, the south-east of Iraq is by far majority Shia, I will be very surprised if they try to push into this part of the country. It will give a further strong indication that they are working with Iran.

Of course, to keep up appearances, Iran will make a show of helping Iraq to resist ISIS but it is more likely that Iraqi Sunni militias will be created from the remains of the army and other groups. It will end up similar to Syria, where the FSA while fighting the government, is also spending a lot of time trying to fight back against ISIS. The entire region will descend into a state of perpetual conflict, with only the Shia areas of Iraq remaining quiet. This is what Iran wants. The danger of using a proxy such as ISIS is that you have to keep control of it. Has Iran got ISIS on a short enough leash? Time will tell.

The question that comes to my mind is why has this happened now? The simple answer is oil, or rather the price of oil. Over the last year, oil has spent a lot of time below $110 per barrel often closer to $105. The chaos created by ISIS has pushed the price up to $113 at the moment. Iran and Russia are very close, Russia has been using a lot of its cash reserves to prop up its banking system as capital flight increases, people and businesses are taking their money out of Russia. Oil and gas are the main sources of income for the Russian economy but it needs a price of about $117 per barrel to have enough to top up its cash reserves and keep the economy going. Could it be that Iran has arranged events in Iraq to help its closest ally Russia? Of course this helps all oil-producing countries but the main benefactor is Russia, it is desperate for cash and the events in Iraq could not have come at a better time. Iran also benefits greatly, the war in Syria has cost it a fortune as it supports Bashar al Assad, extra money is always needed. Of course Saudi Arabia also benefits but they already have a mountain of cash, the increased income while welcome will not really change anything for them.

As I said in my previous post, Saudi Arabia is attempting to improve relations with Iran. It can see the coming tsunami of chaos which is about to engulf the region, I think it finally understands that Iran has the upper hand in what is going on. As a result I think we will see a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran with regards to Syria, they will settle on a division of the country. In return Saudi will get assurances that ISIS will not invade, this has to be one of their greatest fears. ISIS could make havoc, especially as it now has a huge amount of modern American made military hardware. This all depends on Iran maintaining control over ISIS, if it loses control then all bets are off.

Extreme Islamist group ISIS go from strength to strength, for the moment

The Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) had a huge win a couple of days ago. They were able to enter with out opposition, the Iraqi city of Mosul. Such is their fearsome reputation that the Iraqi army there abandoned everything and fled, leaving behind all their equipment, weapons and uniforms. Tens of thousands of Mosul residents, mostly Sunni, have fled and continue to flee the city to nearby Kurdish controlled areas.

This is a major win for ISIS. Under the strict control and command of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, what started as a small splinter group after its ejection from Al Qaeda for being too bloodthirsty even for them, has grown over the last 2 years into a well-organized, trained and equipped army. The capture of Mosul extends their area of control and influence that holds in its deadly embrace large areas of both Syria and Iraq. See map graphic below.

ISIS territory

ISIS territory. Link to map source here

It is interesting that ISIS were allowed to develop in strength in Syria by Bashar al Assad. He wanted the civil war to become sectarian and helped them to grow. In this he has been very successful, however in so doing he allowed, for want of better words, a monster to develop. ISIS is causing worry in many countries in the middle east. This is why in Syria both Jordan and Israel are helping the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to create buffer zones along their borders, ISIS has intentions to take over most if not all Syria and many governments have finally woken up to the fact that their political games have led directly to the situation which exists today. Now on the doorstep of Europe is a very strong Islamic fighting force which is going to be hard to resist.

It is difficult to see how Iraq will be able to deal with the situation. Although it has a large well equipped army of 900,000 soldiers, most of those are patronage jobs, they are there for the money and not because they want to fight. Add to this, the fact they have very little training in guerrilla warfare, which is the modus operandi of ISIS, and one has to consider the real possibility that ISIS will make further large gains in the country. It could be that the Kurds will send Peshmerga fighting units to fight ISIS in Iraq, they have a lot of experience in asymmetric warfare and will want to protect their regional capital of Arbil against any possible threat.

This will not be the type of war where you can send in the air force to strike at well-defined targets, ISIS operate very much in a hit and run style, they are very good at disappearing while at the same time holding control. They really have become masters of psychological warfare as demonstrated by the huge exodus from Mosul by both the army and civilians. They are known as heartless butchers and their reputation precedes them wherever they  go.

Looking at what their ultimate goals might be could also give a possible explanation for other developments in the middle east. ISIS believe they have a god given mission to set up an Islamic caliphate, one that would rule very harshly based on their narrow understanding of Islam. This religious caliphate would ultimately need to have Muslim holy sites such as Mecca at its centre. With rapid growth in strength and territory of ISIS over the last 2 years and with no sign of them slowing down, Saudi Arabia must be starting to worry that they will come into the cross-hairs. Saudi Arabia has a well equipped army but to be honest has no fighting experience and most of its commanders wouldn’t have a clue how to defend the country as many have the job as a result of royal patronage, to be honest they are not up to the job. ISIS would see the country as a soft target. This could also explain why Saudi Arabia has recently been making peaceful overtures towards Iran. Iran is possibly the only country in the middle east which can deal with ISIS. There are many in Saudi who are totally against any rapprochement with Iran, for them it is their biggest enemy mainly because the Shia Muslims of Iran and the Sunni Muslims of Saudi see each other as religious heretics. The new Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is a contentious figure among the Saudi royal family because he is willing to talk to Iran, publicly many members of the family are against him because they say his is not a legitimate heir but privately it must also be due to his stance on Iran. However they can’t say this too loudly as the ageing King also backs better ties with Iran and he could cut off the funds of many royals if they were to jeopardise his wish for better ties. The problem is that many don’t realize the threat ISIS could pose to their comfortable existence, few have ever done any real work, they simply live off the oil wealth of the country, out of touch with reality.

The main sticking point in Saudi/Iran relations is their support for opposing sides in Syria. Iran supports the government of Bashar al Assad, it has committed huge resources in what is a very expensive war, not only financial but also in manpower. Saudi Arabia supports the Sunni revolt, Sunni are the majority of the population but with nearly half the population now displaced the Sunni majority is greatly reduced. The fact that ISIS is a rapidly growing problem in Syria and Iraq could lead to the 2 countries making some sort of compromise in Syria so that they can confront ISIS together. You can be sure Iran does not want to see Mecca in the hands of ISIS any more than Saudi Arabia does.

This situation also plays into the hands of Iran, if Iran is to lead the fight back against ISIS then it will also expect to be recognised as the leading power in the middle east, which has been its intention all along, its hegemonic ambitions are hardly a secret. Could it be that Iran secretly supported ISIS even though it is Sunni? Bashar al Assad has certainly done so in Syria and he is backed by Iran. Once a deal is done between Saudi Arabia and Iran over Syria this could be the moment Iran steps in to confine ISIS in the areas it generally holds now, both in Syria and Iraq. Saudi will be forced to accept Iran as the dominant power in the middle east. With ISIS being so close to the Turkish border it could also be the moment that Turkey steps in the create a buffer zone in northern Syria probably working in conjunction with the Kurds with whom it now has a better relationship. In Syria, this will leave areas of permanent warfare in the north and centre of the country between Syrian rebel militias and ISIS. In the south and east of Syria there is bound to come a time when the rebels know they can’t advance any further towards Damascus, it is too well supported by Iran and Russia so will settle for a semi autonomous area buffering Israel and Jordan and supported by those 2 countries against any threat from ISIS. Bashar al Assad will be weakened but still in power which will suit Israel perfectly. Syria will be divided.

As for Iraq, ISIS will hold power in certain Sunni dominated areas which is going to create yet another enormous refugee crisis. I wonder if ISIS realise how much of a pawn they are in this bloody game of chess. It will certainly resist any attempts at confinement. I’m sure the eventual plan is to reduce its power, which will lead to all sorts of other complications, there are always consequences. For the moment ISIS is being allowed to go from strength to strength as part of the bloody games being played in the middle east.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Syria. The suffering continues.

Yesterday evening I was able to make contact with someone I know in Aleppo. As most of you are aware, I was there last year. At that time, many people had returned to the city after the FSA had pushed Syrian regime soldiers out of about 80% of the city. Now, nearly a year later, Aleppo is once again almost a ghost town, very few people remain. The people have fled to Turkey, the countryside or to regime held areas.

What has brought about this situation? There are a number of elements. The first is the fragmented way the FSA has been operating, different brigades operating independently of each other with no effective central command. There was Gen. Salim Idriss, who until very recently was head of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) of the FSA but he has proven to be less than effective and therefore replaced by Col. Abdul Lilal Al Bashir who has more active experience. Whether that will make any difference remains to be seen. By far the biggest problem now facing the people in the north of Syria are DAASH, the commonly used term by the Syrians for ISIS or ISIL, both different acronyms for the same group.

It is often widely reported that DAASH is a part of Al Qaeda but the evidence is mounting that they are also working in collaboration with the Syrian regime. As an example, a few weeks ago the FSA made a big push to retake territory that was controlled by them. In the short term it worked, what was very interesting was how many of the DAASH fighters ran for protection in regime controlled areas. Also the DAASH commander of Menbij, a city close to Aleppo, is a Jordanian who was working at the Syrian embassy in Amman, Jordan. Work is being made to collect evidence of the links between DAASH and the Syrian regime. The leadership of Al Qaeda has even ordered DAASH to go back to Iraq, but they refuse and so there is falling out between them. To be honest the situation is confusing, nobody is 100% sure of what exactly is going on, the game is well hidden at the moment.

So now there is a situation where DAASH control the border between Syria and Turkey as well as all the important towns and cities in the north. The FSA for now, has gone to ground, there is talk of them being supplied with new weapon systems, but as will always be the case it will not be enough to recover lost territory in the long term. Also in my conversation with my contact yesterday in Aleppo he told me that the regime is dropping 15-20 barrel bombs on the city per day. They are rolled out of helicopters and are not designed for accuracy, simply to kill as many people as possible. What is interesting is that the places used as headquarters by DAASH in Aleppo and other towns and cities they control are never targeted by these barrel bombs! It isn’t as if they try to hide their locations, they hang their flag and paint the building with their colours. They know they won’t be bombed by the regime unless there is prior notice so they can move out first.

In the south of the country, in the Daraa region, there is a different situation. Recently different brigades of the FSA have joined forces to create a new army division, the Al Yarmouk Division. Here in the south DAASH has not been able to get a foothold but that does not mean the situation is clear. They are still being controlled to a certain extent by Jordan. Saudi Arabia supplies them weapons but they have to pass through Jordan, however the Jordanians strictly limit how much is passed on to the FSA in the south. Also they stipulate where the FSA can and cannot attack. They will even target the FSA with artillery if they try to attack certain targets. The result is that the Al Yarmouk Division is being permitted to create a clearly defined autonomous area that is free of the Syrian regime but only according to the dictates of Jordan. Why could this be?

I have written several times in the past that the objective of the international political community is to divide Syria, which is happening now. Iran is supporting Bashar al Assad with everything it has, it needs direct access to the Mediterranean. The regime is consolidating its position from Damascus all the way up to Latakia. In the middle is the city of Homs, which is subject to the most brutal destruction. Its population is being starved into submission. Homs is a key city for the regime because it sits on the road that connects Damascus to the sea. In the meantime, many in the city have been killed by hunger and illness, women and children. No thought is given to them at all.

Then as I said before, in the south a new area is slowly being formed. The south of Syria has very good ground water supplies. Jordan has always been envious of this, it always struggles to have sufficient water of good quality. The eventual plan will, it seems, to affiliate the southern region of Syria with Jordan. This will give them access to the water and in return the people in the south of Syria will get protection from the regime. It hasn’t happened yet but things are definitely moving in this direction.

Then we come back to Northern Syria, here is where the different extremist groups, Sunni and Shia, are fighting each other. They have been permitted to bring in weapons via Turkey and Iraq and Lebanon. The strategy being to allow them to become strong enough so they have enough power to fight to the death. The problem with this of course is that it is the ordinary Syrian people who are suffering the most. The vast majority of the extremists are foreigners who are simply using the revolution in Syria for their own purposes. This is something that most newspapers don’t mention, the impression is given that because there are extremists fighting in Syria they must be Syrian. Yes a very small number are but the overwhelming majority are foreigners and they are permitted by surrounding countries to enter Syria with heavy weapons.

When I was talking to my contact in Aleppo yesterday he told me that there is only the most basic food. Water is in short supply, they collect and store what they can. He told me that trying to get food aid across the border from Turkey to the people is too risky. DAASH will steal it for themselves and what is left will be sold for highly inflated prices. Syria is a humanitarian disaster on a huge scale. We in the West have become numb to the news reports, why should we care, they are from a different culture, religion and language. They are human beings with the same hopes and desires as us. People are people, they want the chance to have a home, a family, a job, security and dignity. They want the ability to live without fear of brutality simply because they disagree with what the government is doing. That is a human right and the West is deliberately denying them their rights because the politicians are more interested in playing a game of power with the rule; if they can’t control then they will destroy.

Syria: Why Geneva talks will not work.

On the surface it looks good that finally there is the opportunity to get the Syrian government and the opposition to sit down and talk. Iran have also been invited since they are basically in control of the Syrian government and are running the war. So what is the sticking point?

The main sticking point is Iran which is now in control of the Syrian government. Iran’s plans do not include giving up their glove puppet, Bashar al Assad or those closest to him. From everything that I understand, the rebels are prepared to talk to certain elements of the regime but there is a core of about 50 people who they feel are responsible for the massacre of innocent civilians, with these the rebels have no desire to negotiate, they need this core to step down as a final result of any international negotiations.

The talks in their current form are seen as only buying time for Bashar al Assad rather than being a serious forum to negotiate an end to a conflict that is making so many people suffer.

So the date set for the talks. Will they go ahead, I don’t know. But I am sure that political events are soon to get quite interesting.

Watch this space.

A brief history of the Syrian revolution until now.

Back in mid March 2011 the Syrian people began demonstrating peacefully, asking for their basic human rights. There weren’t asking for Bashar al Assad to leave power, only that he treat the people with respect. What really started the revolution was the murder of Hamza al Khatib, a young boy who had written graffiti on a wall that it was time for Bashar al Assad to step down. His mutilated body was handed back to his parents, the regime thought this would send a strong enough message to the people, enough to keep them quiet. The total opposite happened.

Several times I met Sheikh Haroun al Zoubi, who was Hamza’s teacher, Haroun was also the leader of the Omari mosque in Daraa, the city where the Syrian revolution started, he told me first hand about those first days of protest. After the death of Hamza, he told the people of Daraa that they had a choice to make, to be with the government that kills children or to be with the revolution. In the beginning, in fact for the first six months, the people protested peacefully, without force. Despite this, the government used Hezbollah and Iranian militia to attack the protestors and would then leave boxes of ammunition at the scene as ‘evidence’ to say that the protestors had fired on government troops. I know this for a fact, I interviewed Zaid Tlass who was a general in the Syrian army until his defection and he knew Bashar al Assad personally, in fact his family was very close to the regime, Mustafa Tlass was defense minister to Hafez, the father of Bashar. I also interviewed Firas Tlass, his son.

The government used Hezbollah and Iranian militia as well as the infamous ‘Shabiha’ to try to put down the protestors because it knew it could not count on the ordinary Syrian soldiers to do the job,. The normal military saw no reason to fire upon its own people. In fact the first officer to defect from the Syrian army was Abdul Razzak Tlass, he was morally outraged at the fact he was asked to kill his own people who were protesting peacefully. The shock of this to the government was considerable, it was inconceivable that anyone of the Tlass family would be disloyal to Bashar al Assad. I was privileged to have the opportunity to get to know Abdul’s fiancee Asmaa, who herself had been tortured by the government, she  spoke very clearly about the actions of the Syrian government.

At the beginning of the revolution there was no religious ideology, or the idea to fight a religious war. Before the Assad regime came to power in the 70′s, all the religious groups, Sunni, Shia, Druze, Jew and Christian had been getting along. I saw an example of this when I was in Aleppo, I was in a small square, on three sides there was a mosque, a synagogue and a church. The Syrian people know how to get along with one another. However the regime developed the idea of religious division to strengthen its position. First it forced the Jews out and then it made the remaining groups fear each other, that if it ever lost power then there would be bloodshed along religious lines.

As time went on in the revolution, the Syrian government permitted religious extremist groups to develop strength in Syria, directly aiding them, in order to give substance to the idea that only the regime gives stability. But when you look at who the extremists are, they are 90% foreigner. For example the ex ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) leader in Membij, Syria was a Jordanian who worked at the Syrian embassy in Amman, Jordan. It has become clear that there are the genuine Al Qaeda groups in Syria and those who are using Qaeda as a front for other means. When the rebels got organized and decided to fight back, many ISIS fighters ran for cover in government controlled areas

Then we have to look at external influences in the Syrian conflict. When Bashar al Assad came to power he permitted Iran to have influence in Syria in ways his father Hafez never permitted. Politically, economically and militarily. When the revolution began, many of the conscripted Syrian soldiers deserted as soon as they could, in fact it is militia of Iran and Hezbollah who are doing most of the fighting on the ground. Assad has become little more than a puppet on a string who is controlled by Iran. Iran is paying many poor Iraqis to fight in Syria, it can’t afford to lose its huge investment of time and money, it has a large expansionist ambition that has Syria at its center.

On the other hand there is the USA. They prefer that Assad stays in power because it is better to deal with what you know rather than what you don’t. However they are also using the development of religious extremists in Syria. There is an old strategy of getting your two enemies to fight each other. The USA wants to restrict Iran’s expansionist plans, so it has permitted Qaeda and associated groups to develop, turning a blind eye to the import of heavy weapons through Turkey, a fellow NATO member.

They are hoping to allow the Sunni religious extremist groups to get strong enough to be able to fight against Iran which is Shia. The recent nuclear deal with Iran was simply a way to allow Iran to be able to sell more oil so that it would have the money to put into supporting Assad in Syria. Allow your enemies to get strong enough so they can have a real fight. This also suits the Sunni and Shia extremists who believe there needs to be a war between them to decide who has the one true faith.

In the meantime the ordinary Syrian people, the vast majority of whom have no interest in religious conflict, who are suffering tremendous hardship, either in their own country or as refugees in Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. It appears that the international community has very little interest in helping them.

The Middle East & the Geo-political games being played in Syria

To be honest this is such a huge topic it is impossible to cover all of it here. I am concentrated on how Syria is at the center of international Geo-political strategy.

The Iran nuclear deal

It has to be said that anything that can reduce nuclear weapon development has to be a good thing. Why on earth we need them at all has to be the question, if ever they were used anywhere in the world, the consequences would enormous. So we come back to the Iran deal. Iran has been suffering under sanctions for a while now and the impact on its economy is heavy. Not only that, it is costing a lot of money to continue its military support of the Assad regime in Syria and also Hezbollah in Lebanon. Estimates put the cost of this support at somewhere in the region of $1 Billion per month. Iran is playing a clever game, they agreed to stop Uranium enrichment in return for the lifting of sanctions, which will allow them to sell their oil on the open market. What is interesting is how quickly they agreed to this. This suggests that they already have enough enriched Uranium to make a bomb, the hard part is building a deliverable weapon. So agreeing to this demand would not have been difficult for them. In any case, supporting Assad is a much greater priority for them now than the building of a nuclear weapon.  So why is Iran supporting Assad? Basically it comes down to the fact that Iran is trying to grow its sphere of dominance in the middle east. When Bashar al Assad became president he allowed Iran to have much more influence in the running of Syria than his father ever did. The Assad regime is the only one that will allow Iranian influence in Syria, in fact, now the Assad regime is so much in debt to the Iranians that it is little more than a vassal power that represents Iranian interests. If Assad were to go, Iran would lose this influence and its arm that reaches all the way to the Mediterranean sea  via Iraq to Syria and Lebanon. Hence it agreed to the nuclear deal as it needs the money to fight to keep Assad in power. I suggest you read this interview I made with Zaid Tlass, a senior air-force General and whose family was very close to the Assad family before they defected, to get more info about the regime and Iran.

Syria: Al Qaeda, the USA, Iran, Turkey etc

Syria is now at the center of Geo-political  games being played out by various countries. On the one hand you have Iran supporting Assad directly, and indirectly through Hezbollah as well as through various militias. There are also lots of Shia fighters from Iraq who are going to Syria in order to protect Shia holy shrines, it must be said though that they are not there to support Assad directly as his Baathist regime is very much like that of Saddam Hussein’s time in Iraq, which for obvious reasons doesn’t hold good memories for Iraqis. These Iraqi Shia fighters go because they get well paid and are able to support their families back in Iraq where economic conditions are terrible for many despite the vast oil wealth of the country. So Iran is paying poor Iraqis to go fight in Syria.

Al Qaeda is a rapidly strengthening force in Syria. When I was there back in the spring they really were not a problem, being very few in number. The last few months have changed all that. Now Syria is the number one place for them to go, they even call it a 5 star Jihad. Jihadii from all over the Muslim world are making their way to Syria to join Qaeda  Although still far fewer in number than the moderate FSA, Qaeda are much better equipped and funded and working hard to take control of the north of Syria away from the FSA. In fact now the FSA has 2 battles on its hands, against Assad and against Qaeda. It has been suggested to me by some FSA commanders that they would even consider working together with certain Shia militia to fight together against Qaeda as it is a mutual enemy before continuing to fight each other. I know many of you reading this will find it hard to understand but it this how the middle east has worked for a very long time. I would be very curious to see what might happen if the moderate Sunni and Shia joined forces to fight them. They might realize that they can actually get on together, who knows. They are really worried about Qaeda, if they were to take control it would not be enough to be a good Muslim, not smoking or drinking and praying five times a day. No, nor would it be enough to stay quiet and let Qaeda run the country. No,Qaeda would expect the people to join them, when I say join them I mean as fighters. If you refuse, you are seen as a traitor and they will kill you, as simple as that. If they get control of the country, the people will be forced to become fighters to be sent to other countries. If you are not with them 100% then you are the enemy. This is why the moderate Sunni rebels are prepared to consider making some unusual alliances.

What is interesting is that Qaeda are getting a lot of their heavy weapons from Libya. To get these weapons to Syria they have to be brought by sea and then landed in Turkey from where they make their way across the border. Smuggling large quantities of heavy weapons through a shipping port is no easy matter, particularly as the Turkish know what Qaeda are up to. But the fact is Qaeda are able to do this, which leads to the conclusion that Turkey is turning a blind eye to the situation and if Turkey know about it then you can be sure the USA knows about it too. So what is going on here, why would they allow this to happen?

This is my opinion based on my observations and interviews during a month in Syria and another month visiting Jordan and Lebanon, including refugee camps. It appears that Qaeda are being allowed to build up their strength and resources in Syria. In fact, Syria is being made to look such an attractive Jihad that as many Qaeda and associates as possible will go there to fight. They are leaving Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as Europe and the USA in droves, all heading to Syria, well equipped, well funded, ready to fight and die. Obviously, in the face of this, Iran is going to have to increase the resources it puts into keeping Assad in power. As I said before, this war is costing Iran a fortune and it is going to get much more expensive for them as Qaeda get stronger. This is why Iran agreed to the nuclear deal and the USA knows it. The strategy of the USA is to get Qaeda and Iran to fight each other to exhaustion in Syria. Let Qaeda and Iran build themselves up so they can have a proper war inside Syria and really try to wipe each other out.Not that the USA or others are looking to see Iran as a country destroyed but rather that its expansionist ambitions are severely curtailed. As a result, this war is going to continue for some time and Syria as a country will be reduced to rubble even more than it is now. Of course, no thought is given to the ordinary Syrian people who continue to suffer terribly as a result of this Geo-political strategy.

Then we have Turkey. They are playing the long game. Like Iran they also have expansionist ambitions that hark back to the days of the Ottoman empire. At the moment they are biding their time, allowing Qaeda to build up its strength in Syria for its fight against the Iranian owned Assad regime. The plan is that when Iran and Qaeda eventually exhaust themselves and the land is left in ruins, the few Syrians who are left will not be able to put up any resistance as Turkey annexes the northern territory of Syria. Syria as a country will cease to exist in the form we know it today. However, Turkey isn’t the only country with ambitions to have a slice of Syria.

The role of Jordan in the Syrian conflict

Jordan is also playing its own games. The supply of weapons that are sent to the FSA in the south of Syria from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar all come through Jordan. However Jordan doesn’t pass on all the weapons that are destined for the FSA. It feeds through just a little, enough to keep the FSA fighting but no more. Also sometimes they play games such as mixing tracer rounds with standard ammunition. Tracer rounds give away your location when used and makes it easier to target you at night when fighting takes place. I was given this information directly by an FSA General.

Jordan is also trying to get the different rebel fighting brigades under their control. Let me explain how. There are many defected Syrian regime military officers now in Jordan. Some defected because they are against the regime but other simply because they were able to get their family and money out of the country and be able to protect their personal interests. Jordan has been trying, not very successfully at the moment, to insert these defected Syrian officers into the various rebel brigades, the largest of which in the south of Syria is the Liwa al Yarmouk brigade led by Bashar al Zoubi who I have met a couple of times in his home and also met Yasser al-Abboud who was the General before he was recently killed.

Anyway, the Jordanian idea is to dilute the authority of the FSA rebel commanders and bring them under their control. I know this as this is what many told me including Bashar al Zoubi and quite often the Jordanians will only give them supplies if they accept certain demands. This includes being told where they can and cannot attack. Obviously Jordan is working closely with the USA and the rebels being told where they can and cannot attack is a strategic decision that has as its ultimate aim the division of Syria also in the south. Let me explain why the ultimate objective is a divided Syria. So done, Syria will be a shadow of its former self and an Iranian controlled Assad regime can never be a threat to Israel. Jordan will never invade Syria to take control of the land in the south. What will happen is that as the Sunni, Shia and Regime forces fight each other to destruction in the north and center of the country, Jordan will offer nationality to those Syrians in the south and with it protection. In return Jordan will get access to the vast ground water resources that it so desperately needs. Before this can happen Jordan will eventually have to get rid of the various brigades leadership and replace them with their own selected people from among the the defected Syrian officers who are part of the  Syrian military council in Amman run by Colonel Achmed al Namah. One final point, at the moment there isn’t a big problem with Qaeda and other extremist factions in the south but if there were then Jordan would give direct help to the FSA to help defeat them. After, Jordan would continue with its original plans.

Will Israel and Saudi Arabia attack Iran or not

In a word no. Short of a nuclear strike, Iranian facilities are so well buried under mountains that attacking is impractical and fraught with risk. Iran has very good Russian made air defense systems, which means that there is no guarantee a strike would work. Saudi Arabia simply doesn’t have the military capability to make such a strike. Only Israel could conceive of such an action but they wont. In the end it will not be necessary if all goes according to the plan of getting Qaeda and Iran to fight each other to exhaustion in Syria.  And there are always cyber attacks to be used as a way of damaging Iranian infrastructure.

Syria talks in Geneva: Should Iran be involved

Any talks in Geneva will be fruitless. The rebels refuse to negotiate with the regime and also the moderate rebel commanders who have the power on the ground in Syria have not been included to take part. Those Syrians who claim to be the opposition are hardly recognized by the people on the ground. It makes no sense for there to be talks if Iran isn’t there because it is they who control Assad. Seeing as Iran is prepared to throw everything it has into keeping Assad in power any talks will be pointless.

How the middle east effects us: The Institutionalization of security and intelligence agencies and why they need the threat of terror and instability to justify their existence

I often hear people say that what happens in the middle east is nothing to do with them. Why should they care about a war far away between people who have different language, culture and religion be of any concern to us in the West. The fact is there is an indirect effect and it is a powerful one that effects us every day. The threat of terror and terrorist organizations and individuals are used as a reason for ever more surveillance of society. It has arrived at the point where all electronic communication is monitored. This mass monitoring of individuals has less to do with terrorism but rather with these organizations finding ways to justify their existence and growth. Allow me to explain.

It is interesting that when we look at different types of organizations, from charities and political parties to Intelligence services, they all have some vital things in common. They all start out with an objective and all the organizational effort is put into reaching the objective for which it was created. So a charity that looks after animal welfare or an intelligence organization that is tasked with protecting the country. As the organization becomes more successful it finds that its political and financial power increases as it grows in size and influence. What invariably happens next is a result of some interesting psychology. The organization develops an institutional mentality. What this means is that the continued growth and recognition of the organization becomes more important than the job it originally set out to do. This is also the time when those who are a part of the organization have to be much more conformist if they wish to continue working there. Internal rules and regulations become more important than the actual job. Creativity of thought and action is suppressed. Along with this you also have empire building within the organization as it moves from internal collaboration to protecting and developing internal power.

So we come back to the intelligence services. We see how they have become institutionalized. The report into the 9/11 attack shows that there was a lot of evidence beforehand of a planned attack and the report criticized the security services because of their internal conflicts of interest. The existence of the organization has become more important than its stated job. Internal empire building will mean that different elements will look for ever increased funding as they consolidate their positions. They are in competition with each other rather than genuinely collaborating. In order to justify increased funding they need to show two things; their successes, terrorist attacks they have stopped and their failures, it is the failures that will be used in combination with the success to ask for more money. If only we had more money for more resources then we could have stopped that particular attack.

So actually it serves the purpose of the intelligence services for there to be a high profile attack from time to time. I would say that the point has been reached where no matter how much money and new technology is pumped into security services the returns, stopping terrorist attacks, will be very much reduced due to ossifying institutionalization.

In the meantime, in combination with Geo-political strategy we see how the lives of ordinary people are counted as nothing, where governments consider their own citizens to be the enemy to be watched at all cost in case they try to change things.

Finally a look at government in general and why it is all subject to failure

Throughout human history we have tried pretty much every form of government that can be conceived. The track record isn’t good. What we are seeing now though is an ever greater disconnect between governments and the people they claim to govern. Governments are getting ever harder, iron-like and also more distant while the population is seen as something clay-like, to be molded and squeezed. The problem is that iron and clay really don’t mix and it wouldn’t take much to break that fragile bond. There is a lot more I can say about this but it will wait for another time.