Losing the war on terror?

Like the war on drugs, the war on terror against groups such as Islamic State (Daesh) simply isn’t working. Fighting these groups is trying to deal with the symptoms rather than get to the cause of why extremism has grown so rapidly this century.

There are several reasons for this, the first is religious and political ideology supported by a belief that the only way to bring change is with the use of force and revolution. History is littered with examples, the French revolution, the Bolshevik revolution, the English civil war. All happened because of deep dissatisfaction with the existing ruling classes who thought only of themselves and not of the common people. Yet in each example after the overthrow of an unjust political system, all led to further bloodshed, in France many innocent people were sent to the guillotine, after the Bolshevik revolution Stalin ruled by fear and had many thousands executed for no good reason, Oliver Cromwell increased persecution against catholics after the protestant “Rounheads” won the English civil war. So we come to today, the “Arab Spring” the revolutions to overthrow unjust and power crazy rulers in north Africa and most notably Syria have created so much bloodshed and allowed new power crazy and religious groups to enter the vacuum, which is invariably created after a revolution. The question has to be, why and how relatively small numbers of those with extremist ideology are able to gather so much support?

Take Nazi Germany as an example, Hitler was able to come to power because so many ordinary people were suffering terrible financial hardship and unemployment, here was someone who promised to rebuild their country and give them a sense of pride and identity once again. Groups such as IS (Daesh) work along similar lines. They appeal to many who feel abandoned, using very slick propaganda to create a sense of identity, somewhere they can belong. The mistake is made that this is just about religion, it is not, it is about creating a sense of being part of something bigger where they can play a part, religion is just one of the tools used. The real motivation of Daesh is power. They would also not be where they are today if they didn’t have money or if other countries didn’t find Daesh useful in the international game of geo-politics.

Then there is the fact that these groups are good for business, as they create regional wars, the arms manufactures rub their hands together in glee, war is good for business so long as it is contained to a region far away. Like the war on drugs, so the war on terror is very good for business, ethics don’t even come into the equation.

Now with the terrorist attack in France and the shooting of tourists in Tunisia we witness what is surely the beginning of a far greater threat to what we consider the western way of life. Global political malfeasance, the purely self interested interference in the middle east, the rulers of middle eastern countries who have never taken care to give opportunities for education and work to large minority groups. All together allowed the development of Daesh. Now Daesh want to spread fear around the world as payback. Finally governments are waking up to this very real threat, which is ironic as they helped create the threat in the first place by their playing of geo-political games.

So what might happen next? For a start, more intense blocking of refugees trying to escape from these troubled lands for fear that some among them could be terrorists. Tunisia is closing a large number of mosques in the wake of the shooting of tourists as these mosques are said to be a source of hate preaching, I think we will see this trend increase over time, more mosques will be closed in many countries around the world. The result of that will be many muslims including the majority who are against violence as seeing this as a direct attack on their faith, which could also have unintended consequences.

This has become a global problem and one which needs a global solution, personally I think it is too late, Pandora’s Box has been opened. If action had been taken earlier to stop injustice and inequality, if governments had cared about people rather than power then there would have been a chance and groups such as Daesh would not have the power they have today. In a way, every bomb dropped on Daesh makes them stronger, they have become like the mythical Hydra, cut off a head and two more grow in its place as young ideological muslims conditioned by slick propaganda join the group to defend their religion against attacks from the corrupt west and equally corrupt arab rulers.

The world is now entering a time of great danger, not since the end of Second World War has such an existential threat existed and to be honest our politicians have no real idea of how to deal with it. Before, wars were between countries, now we face a war against an idea which has become international. Bombing an idea out of existence once it becomes deep seating among many people in many countries is simply not possible. Politicians are going to have to come up with new ideas and think very carefully about the potential consequences of those ideas, not something at which they have ever been very good.

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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.

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Coming Soon. Video Interview with Syrian Revolutionary and Ex Fighter

Soon I will publish an interview with a Syrian who was deep inside, he fought against both the Syrian government as well as ISIS as the leader of his own brigade in Menbij in northern Syria as well as being very active at the political level in Menbij. We need to protect his identity but he was happy to talk to me. He is very candid about his role as well as his experience of how ISIS seems to be working with the Syrian government. He also explains how many Free Syrian Army brigades are controlled by foreign countries. In the end he quit the fight and explains why. There is about an hour of video to go through and edit as well as clean up the sound. I’m a photographer more than a videographer so please be a little patient with my work. Video interview coming soon, watch this space.

Interview with a Syria rebel

Interview with a Syrian rebel

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.

 

 

 

How to Work in a War Zone

Working in Syria

Working in Syria

Syria is the most deadly place in the world at the moment for journalists. The possibility of kidnapping and death is high. I have written many things about my time in Syria, the politics and the suffering of the people, but until now, never about how it was personally for me to go to such a place and the preparation that went into it. Below is some of my experience and advice.

The first and most important thing is preparation, preparation, preparation. One does not simply wander into a war zone and hope to get a story and expect to come out of it alive. The weeks leading up to my departure for Syria were intense, getting contacts on the ground, organizing who would be meeting us at the border and where we would be staying for at least the first couple of nights. Fortunately I was going with a Syrian friend who had already been back to Syria a couple of months earlier but we still had a lot of work to do.

Paramount to your safety is being able to trust your Fixer. The Fixer is the person who will sort out your transport, find you places to stay, get you into locations where you want to get a story and also act as translator if need be. I can’t stress this enough, you must be able to trust your Fixer with your life. If you are going to a country where you don’t know anybody, contact journalists who have been there and get them to tell you who are reliable Fixers. Do not under any circumstances, arrive at the border and look for a Fixer there. You know nothing about the person and for all you know they could be working with kidnappers. Just don’t do it. But find a good Fixer and they will help you in so many ways to get you the story you are after and they might also save your life.

Another thing, under no circumstance when you go into a war zone as a journalist should you ever carry a weapon even if you think it would be only for self defense, if you are caught with a weapon then you will be seen as an enemy and killed. Don’t do it. End of. Let your Fixer organize your security. In Syria I was always with at least one person armed with a Kalashnikov who knew how to use it. It deters would be kidnappers if they see they will have to fight to get you.

This brings me onto something else. Before you go you should have some idea of self defense. Personally, I am not bad at Krav Maga, it is a great system for when you need to fight back from a point of weakness and if the other person is pointing a gun at you. In Syria, one of the guys I was with thought it would be funny to put his pistol to the back of my head, he did it as a joke but I had him on the ground with his gun pointing at his head before he even had time to blink. He never tried that game again. You need to know how to defend yourself if the situation calls for it.

When in a war zone you need to be constantly alert. Death can come from any direction, the random stuff you can’t do much about. Bombs, mortars etc, sometimes shit happens and there is nothing you can do about it. When going to a location, be aware of your surroundings and have an escape plan if things get hairy, although sometimes it is better to sit tight if you have cover until things quiet down a bit, this is particularly true if you are caught in the middle of a fire fight as happened to me. Never forget to keep your head down when all hell breaks loose, it is also a good position as you can kiss your butt goodbye if the time comes.

Kidnapping threats are more insidious but there are usually warning signs before it happens. Are you being followed? Where you are staying, do strange people come in and look at you but without talking to you? Do you get the sense that people are talking about you behind your back? These are all things to be aware of that there could be a plan to snatch you. Whereever you are staying it is worth trying to have an escape route, if you are staying in a house or hotel never stay higher than the 2nd floor, there might come a time when you need to jump out of a window to escape. The same goes for basements, only stay in them if there is a bombing raid, otherwise you can easily be cornered. Saying that, one time in Syria I spent the night sleeping in a bank vault, there was a bombing raid in the area and it was about the securest place to be found, saying that, it smelt a bit in the morning, 50 guys all huddled up in a small strong room with no windows. We were funky.

Don’t over rely on technology, GPS is great but learn to read a map and study the topography. Batteries run out, kit gets lost but a good old fashioned paper map is a must and contains a huge amount of detail if you get the right ones. Always have an idea of your position in relation to the border and the safest escape routes in relation to your position. Mark these on the map. Do not lose the map!

It is really essential that you look after your general health when in a war zone. There can be problems with water quality and food supply. Don’t eat or drink anything you don’t trust. Get bottled water when you can, boil water if you have to. Don’t use tap water to clean your teeth. In Syria the infrastructure has pretty much collapsed in many areas, the risk of water born diseases is high, you really don’t want to come home after getting the story to discover you have some horrible illness that is due to drinking dodgy water. On the food side, take some dried food rations with you, 3 days worth should be sufficient. You never know if you will need them and they can help you keep going if you are having to escape across country.

When I went to Syria I traveled light. One large rucksack, in it there were some extra clothes, lots of t-shirts, underwear and socks. Survival kit, medical kit, map, compass, GPS, satelitte phone, currency. I would leave the extra clothes where I was staying before going out for the day and pack everything else into a smaller backpack, my bug-out bag. You never know when you are going to have to run. You don’t want to be caught lacking the essentials for survival.

When you are prepared it helps you to feel secure that you have done all you can to prepare yourself for any situation and that then permits you to get on with capturing the story that has landed you in a war torn country. While you need to be constantly alert, I faced moments of extreme danger, you should also be prepared to meet some of the most incredible people, the warmth, the surprising acts of kindness, even the humour. This was my experience in Syria.

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.

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.

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.