Syria. A solution in sight?

After four years of fighting, more than 250,000 dead and millions of people displaced, is the situation in Syria about to change? This is the big question and one to which I think we will soon have an answer.

Russia has been bolstering its support for Bashar al Assad, sending in equipment, personnel and troops, not enough to help the Syrian army go on the offensive but rather to help Assad consolidate and defend the territory still held. In the south of the country the rebels are consolidating the ground they hold along the border of the Israeli controlled Golan Heights and further south along the border with Jordan, it is a large area but is sandwiched in by Assad controlled territory to the north and east. The rebels also control large areas of Idlib and Aleppo provinces, there are however pockets of territory inside this area which are controlled by Jabhat al Nusra. Syrian Kurds control much of the northern Syrian border with Turkey. ISIS (daesh) also have control a stretch of the border with Turkey and then south and east following the Euphrates river all the way to Iraq. The country is seriously divided.

Part of the reason this war has gone on for so long is because of geo-politics, the big powers using the situation to extend their spheres of influence, if the Syrians had been left to sort this out for themselves this war would probably have ended two years ago. The problem is the USA, Russia and Iran. Russia and Iran are historic allies of the Assad regime. The USA to be honest has never had a clear strategy in Syria and has often changed its game-plan on the go, reacting rather than having a clear vision. It has been helping the rebels, as distinct from extremists ISIS (daesh) and Jabhat al Nusra (JN). Now, it seems Russia is taking the lead in trying to bring some sort of order to the mess. Not out of altruistic reason but simple recognition that after four years the Syrian army is exhausted and on the other side the rebels aren’t going to be able to make much more progress either, it is a bloody stalemate. Any solution which leads to the stopping of Assad dropping indiscriminate barrel bombs on civillian populations can only be a good thing.

What could a possible solution be? There have been a lot of behind the scenes talks between Russia, the USA and Iran, there can only be a solution if all three agree as they are all part of the problem. Russia insists that Bashar al Assad stays in power but that could well turn out to be a negotiating ploy, as its main interest is in protecting its investment in Syria, in particular weapons sales, its port on the coast at Tartous and having a friendly authoritarian government on its side. Iran, needs the Shia Alawite to stay in power as the area controlled by Assad, an Alawite, borders Lebanon and therefore is a direct connection to Hezbollah in that country. The USA is happy to see Assad and Syria weakened as is Israel, they have been working together to help the rebels take control of most of the land along the border of the Golan Heights, acting as a buffer against Assad and ISIS (daesh). So it would appear that these ‘Great’ powers can come to an agreement to freeze the conflict, with or without Assad. The official country of Syria will remain in name only. Internally, ‘the solution’ will be for semi autonomous regions, much like in eastern Ukraine. Also if the rebels and Syrian army can stop fighting each other they then might be able to concentrate efforts on pushing out the extremists. As for the Kurds who control large areas of the northern border with Turkey, they have been consistently fighting against the extremists as well as Assad, the complication here is Turkey. Turkey is afraid of the Syrian Kurds becoming too independent and joining up with Kurds in Turkey and Iraq. Turkey is looking for anyway it can to control this situation. Any deal on Syria will also have a Turkish element.

Finally, if a deal is made, how will the peace be kept? The majority of the Syrian population, 70%, is Sunni but the money and power is in the hands of the Alawite Assad regime. If autonomous regions for Sunni and Kurds are created but these regions are not allowed to develop and rebuild economically then any agreement will be very short lived. Personally, I don’t see any agreement working in the long term, there is too much temptation for those in power to interfere. In the short term it might be possible to freeze this terrible war, all sides are exhausted, but there is so much bad blood on both sides and it will never be forgotten.

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.

The state of things

The human-race is like a car which is rolling towards the edge of a cliff and instead of hitting the brakes we seem to be hitting the gas.

United Nations

At the UN Headquarters, “let us beat our swords into ploughshares”

The vast majority of people just want to get on with their lives, wanting to raise their families in security both financially and physically, but we now live in a time when that is becoming harder and harder for more and more people. Society is becoming very deeply divided and tribal, politics,religion race and wealth are the dividing factors.

After World War 2, there was a period when things seemed to be going reasonably well. During that time we saw nations rebuilding themselves along with the fall of colonialism, businesses were booming and the quality of life was improving for the majority, medical care was made easily available, housing was easy to find, as were jobs that paid a living wage even at the lower end of the social scale. Racism was recognized for the injustice that it is and action was taken, women were able to take their place in the workplace, no longer simply as a secretary but as lawyers and doctors etc. Of course challenges remained but the point is, improvements were being made in society which were unimaginable not so long before. Of course there was the cold war, and some terrible proxy wars were fought between the two superpowers, Korea and Vietnam, at terrible human cost but in many ways the world was more stable during the cold war than it is today.

Politics was also less partisan in the past, the different parties of many countries could often find a way to work together. Today, politics of the democratic system is polarized and tribal in a way not seen for a very long time and to be honest the wheels are starting to fall off. Then there are countries where there is a single “strong man” in power, as always the power goes to their heads. Those who desire power should never be allowed to have it. The same goes for countries which are governed or ruled by a single family or tribe. They can not imagine never being in power and so set up systems to perpetuate themselves no matter the suffering that might cause others.

Interestingly, over the course of human history, we have tried all forms of government, royal rule, emperors, feudal systems, dictators, authoritarianism, communism, democracy yet none of them can prove themselves in the long run. For sure there have been some benevolent kings and queens in the past who genuinely cared about their subjects but then they died and the situation invariably changed. It strikes me that we are not able to govern ourselves and as society becomes more divided the task will only become harder and more dangerous. As a thought experiment, maybe what is needed is a benevolent global ruler or organization that has the power to put a stop to all the chaos. Quite honestly, if things continue the way they are then the situation can only become worse. The cliff edge approaches.

Religion is a big issue too these days. Everybody is aware of radical Islam and in particular how ISIS (daesh) use it as an instrument of power and fear. The Pope recently said there could be a case for creating an international military force to take them on. This is interesting as the Vatican usually stays neutral on the use of armed force, at least publicly. It must be said that ISIS (daesh) are doing everything they can to create a clash of civilizations, the wanton destruction of historical sites is more about trying to provoke an international reaction rather than for any religious belief. That the Vatican is now weighing into the situation, with all its power and influence, could well lead to what could be seen as a christian crusade by the muslim world even if they don’t support the extremists. To be honest the entire Middle East is beyond hope. Those of you who follow this blog know of my deep interest in the region, it is like a second home to me but the political and religious situation will only become worse. Nothing short of a geo-political earthquake of a magnitude never imagined can resolve the chaos, game playing, war and death. Israel and Palestine is a crazy situation, they are family, literally related to each other but hate each other with all the fury of an erupting volcano. In fact if you could take religion out of the equation there would be no other difference between the Jews and the Palestinians, just members of the same blood line going back to the biblical Isaac and sharing the land.

Our political leaders do not have the answers to the challenges facing the human-race today, their impotence and incompetence becomes more obvious every day. They try to change things but ultimately nothing ever changes, they only add another layer to the crust of everything which has gone before. The global political system has taken on a life of its own which ultimately nobody can control, a little like Frankenstein’s monster and see how that ended for its creator!

The United Nations which was set up after World War 2 to bring about international “peace and security” is little more than a place where political games take place, where self interest is made apparent and very little good is ever done. Saying that, if the global situation continues the way it is, when we really could on the brink of destroying ourselves it could well turn out to be the organization to be given real power and oversight of the international situation, but the situation will have to develop much more for that to happen, maybe when our leaders and politicians see there is a direct threat to their own security. Can and will it happen? Yes. Will it be successful? No.

I have written this article because for all the following I do of international politics, religion and economics, whatever I write is ultimately futile, not that it will stop me, it is just that for the moment I am tired of writing about specific situations because there are so many of them and too many new things happening every day. All the atrocities of war, the political arrogance, the religious meddling, honestly it takes a lot of energy and I can see where it is all heading. It is not my intention to depress anybody with this article, simply to demonstrate that the global system as it stands (political, economic and religious) is self destructive and beyond repair. It needs to be dismantled.

Russian Strategy vs Western Tactics

Once again Vladimir Putin has outmaneuvered the West regarding Ukraine. I’m no fan of his but Putin’s emphasis on strategy rather than tactics seems to be paying off. The USA/Europe seem to only use tactical thinking rather than have a clear strategy in mind. Maybe they should start learning how to play chess.

obama_putinWhat has struck me recently is the similarity between ex Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and Putin. Khrushchev could be a bit of a blunt instrument at times but he was also a strategic thinker. He understood how to restrict the movement of his enemy, in this case the USA. Neither he or President Kennedy wanted war, even at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 but he understood how to keep tension at its maximum without spilling over into full blown war which would have been a disaster for everybody. If you pour water into a glass until it reaches the top, this is tension, if the water spills over the side then it becomes war. Keep the glass full so your enemy can not add his own water to the glass without it spilling over the sides and you make him powerless.

Looking at the situation in Ukraine and it would seem that Putin is using the same strategy. Determined to weaken Ukraine, Russia has been sending large amounts of weapons and soldiers to help the separatists of eastern Ukraine. What can the West do? To be honest not much, if the USA were to send weapons to support the government of Ukraine the glass would be overfilled with water and open direct conflict would surely be a result, something neither side wants, so Russia has been increasing the tension from its side, giving very little room for movement to the USA or Europe. Now with the agreed ceasefire starting on Saturday 14th of February, Putin has been able to make an agreement very much on his own terms, the separatists will keep the land they control and if the ceasefire holds it will become a frozen conflict that the West can do nothing about. But there is more to this I think than meets the eye.

Although Russia is trying to hide its involvment in Ukraine, supporting the separatists with heavy weapons and support is expensive. Sanctions and low oil and gas prices have hit the Russian economy hard and war costs a lot of money. A frozen conflict in Ukraine that gives favourable conditions to the separatists will allow Russia to use its resources elsewhere. Where could that be? Considering Russia’s very close relationship with Iran and Bashar al Assad of Syria the answer has to be the Middle East as it joins “the war on terror” against Islamic State. Why do I say this? Iran has until the summer to agree to stop its nuclear development program, if it does not then the USA will pull back in certain area of Iraq and permit Islamic State to enter Baghdad and slaughter the Shia Muslim population which Iran, being Shia, is sworn to protect. It would be a very costly exercise for Iran to defend them as the low price of oil has also hit its cash reserves hard too. It is conceivable that Russia will give support to Iran through weapons and support. It is a very strong indication that Iran is not prepared to give up its nuclear development program come the deadline and is preparing for all possible outcomes, with Russia its ally, supporting it. The other reason would be to more directly support Bashar al Assad against Islamic State in Syria and maybe more importantly against the Sunni rebels in southern Syria, who are not only receiving strong support from the USA/UK but also Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Israel. With a real possibility that southern Syria will become autonomous, like eastern Ukraine, Assad needs all the help he can get and Russia needs to maintain as much influence in the Middle East as possible.

By freezing the conflict in Ukraine on his own terms, Putin now has the resources to help his buddies in the Middle East, This time last year he could afford to support many different battle fronts, now with the low price of oil and gas, he can not.

Putin is thinking strategically, whereas it would seem the USA puts more emphasis on tactics, it reacts to situations rather than having a long term plan of what it wants to do and how to get there. 2015 is going to be a very interesting year. As always, international politics and those with a thirst for power, Islamic State included, could not care less about the lives of ordinary people. They never have enough power, one day the glass will truly be overfilled.

This article is cross-posted to DigitalJournal.com

The Middle East in 2015

It was wonderful to get back to the Middle East, meeting old friends and making some new ones. As for the local food, keep it coming. Then there was the desert, I can’t explain why but I have always felt at home there.

This trip was not just about pleasure though, my focus was very much on getting up to date with what is happening in the region, particularly with regard to Syria but also the Middle East in general.

This article is based on discussions with trusted sources and as 2015 unfolds you will be able to see for yourself how things work out.

Abo Saif with a post interview cigar

Abo Saif with a post interview cigar

Syria

Southern Front, a coalition of moderate and secular Muslim rebel fighting brigades finished 2014 in a positive frame of mind. The combined forces number over 30,000 fighting men. Over the last year, the amount of support they are getting from the Americans and British has risen dramatically, in terms of weapons, training and finance. They now control large areas in southern Syria but are also very active in areas north east of Damascus, in particular the strategically important mountain area of Palmyra. There they face both the Syrian army and Islamic State. Before going into battle against Syrian army troops, radio contact is always first made to see if they wish to defect. Quite often they do, particularly if they are Sunni Muslims. The Syrian government is also using a lot of fighters from Hezbollah as well as directly from the Iranian military. One of the things highlighted to me is the importance of sticking to international law when it comes to treatment of prisoners. Southern Front are working hard to become a professional army, rather than simply a rag tag group of rebels with no central command. Politically they are also working to legitimize themselves, so far they have made a lot of progress in this direction.

The general feeling is that Syrian President, Bashar al Assad, will lose his hold on power, nobody can say exactly when this will happen but the feeling now is that it is inevitable. The plunging price of oil is severely curtailing the ability of both Iran and Russia to continue their support of Bashar al Assad who absolutely needs them to maintain his grip on power. When he goes, the top tier of the Syrian regime will also go with him. They will be replaced by existing senior figures from the Syrian army, Generals etc and most definitely Alawhite, the same tribe as Bashar al Assad. Damascus and the west of the country up to the Latakia region will be governed by the existing government framework except for a replacement of the top tier of government. South of Damascus will become a new region, governed separately to Damascus and will have a Sunni Muslim majority. Syria will effectively be turned into a Federation. After four years of war there is bad feeling on both sides of the Sunni/Alawhite divide, governing both sides from a single government in Damascus would be impossible, too much blood has been spilt. The simple solution is to create a Syrian Federation. In the north and east of the country where Islamic State hold sway, it could become a common unifying objective for the Alawhite and Sunni to start working together to push together against Islamic State. If not to eradicate the extremists but certainly to contain them. Once Bashar al Assad is gone you will begin to see steps in this direction.

Iran

There is a deadline for Iran to agree to stop its nuclear development program, if that deadline is reached without agreement then Islamic State will be permitted to enter Baghdad in Iraq to attack the Shia Muslim population which Iran is committed to protecting even at great expense. Iran and Syria both permitted Islamic State to grow and develop but they are no longer in a position to control it now that it has enough of its own resources and agenda. If Iran does not make a deal about its nuclear program it will be forced into direct conflict with the beast it helped create. So many parallels with how the USA helped set up Al Qaeda to fight the Russians in Afghanistan only to have it turn against its one time backer. Islamic State have enough funding in place to cover the next two years without stress, if Iran is forced to confront them then it will prove to be very expensive as it is reliant on oil exports but the price of oil is so low now it doesn’t even cover the cost of production. How long can Iran continue to support Bashar al Assad at current oil prices, let alone take on the expense of opening a second front against IS? Iran therefore has to make a tough decision, stop its nuclear development program or get sucked into a military campaign it can ill afford. All the indications are that the price of oil still has further to fall. Oil really is being used as a weapon and very effectively too. This also applies to Russia, it too is being made to pay heavily for its continued support of the Syrian regime.

Islamic State

The falling price of oil also has an impact as it has to reduce the price at which it sells oil, thereby reducing its income. Saying this however, all the indications are that IS is flush with enough cash to run operations for the next two years. IS has also been selling ancient Syrian artifacts on the black market. The words do not exist to describe how I feel about those who do business with IS, buying up Syria’s national treasures which will never again see the light of day. Something really needs to be done about this black market and those who do business with IS. Much has been made of young Europeans who have gone to join Islamic State, it appears that instead of using them as fighters IS are more interested in their propaganda value. Add to this the fact that they tend to have a better education than local Syrian or Iraqi members, many are being used for non military duties such as administration and book keeping, not what many who thought they would be fighting expected.

There is not a single person in the Middle East who believes or even considers that Israel had any involvement in the development of IS. I have lots of people who read my work and try to tell me about the connection between Israel and Islamic State. There isn’t any, get over it. Israel is and has been guilty of many things, but this ain’t one of them.

IS was allowed to grow and develop by Bashar al Assad along with support from Iran. They are more interested in power and money than religion. They are willing to do business with just about anybody who will pay. So if you have a factory you want protecting from damage while you wait out the war in Dubai you can organize, through middle-men, the transfer of funds. IS also has a nice little line in selling ancient artifacts from the areas it controls, ironic considering that according to their strict view of Islam any statue or image with a human face should be destroyed. Forget that, they are all about the money. IS are about as Muslim as the bottom of my shoe. Instead, it is a mafia with a lot of weapons and a love of power. Its arrogance will lead to its eventual downfall.

Oil (personal opinion)

There is no doubt in my mind that the USA and Saudi Arabia are collaborating to force down the price of oil as a way of putting huge economic stress on Russia and Iran. Russia is being made to pay for its action in Crimea and along with Iran both of them are being made to pay for their support of Bashar al Assad. If the price of oil stays low until late in the year then it will be much harder for them to continue supporting Assad. This is oil being used as a weapon. There is however always room for the unexpected to happen, Saudi Arabia is maintaining its oil output at a high level, if there were to be a cyber attack on the control systems of its oil production facilities it would certainly force the Kingdom to reduce or even stop output and increase prices as a result. As always, expect the unexpected.

There you have it, a general outline of the Middle East for 2015. For sure it is not possible to say how much will be this year, apart from Iran which has a specific deadline, but there will certainly be movement in those directions written about, there is an awful lot happening behind closed doors.

This is my first article of 2015 and I hope you found it interesting. I will be happy to see your comments. Thanks for dropping by 🙂

Syria. Interesting developments

Most of the media focus on Syria these days is to do with IS, Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh. I don’t think a single group has ever collected so many acronyms! They control large areas in the north and east of the country. In the south however, there is a different situation. The Southern Front, which has many thousands of well equipped and trained fighters, is made up of moderate muslims and secularists and they hold large parts of Syria south of Damascus. Extremist groups such as Al Nusra and Daesh have tried to get a foothold in the south but without success.

The leadership of the Southern Front believe the regime of Bashar al Assad will collapse at some point. There are various reasons for this. The first is the duration of this terrible war which has sapped a lot of energy out of the Syrian military in terms of manpower. Both sides of this conflict are tired after 4 years of fighting but the areas loyal to the Assad regime are becoming uncomfortable at how many of their men are being lost in this war while Assad sits comfortably in his palace in Damascus. The second reason is economic and is closely linked to the price of oil. War is hugely expensive and the Assad regime is dependent on both Iran and Russia. Iran for funding and Russia for weapons. As the price of oil has collapsed over the last few months it becomes increasingly difficult for Iran to fund Bashar al Assad so he can buy weapons from Russia. Russia can not afford to simply give weapons away as it has its own financial problems also due to the price of oil and the effect of sanctions. If oil prices stay low well into 2015 then it will become extremely difficult for the Syrian regime to hold on to power.

The Southern Front sense this and are preparing for Bashar al Assad to lose his grip on power. The biggest challenge when this happens will be to stop Damascus descending into chaos and allowing the extremists an opportunity to try and fill the vacuum. When Saddam Hussein was overthrown the biggest mistake the Allies made – mistake is too kind, FUBAR would be more appropriate – was to remove all traces of the government and institutions without having anything to replace them, that is what led to the chaos we see in Iraq today. Southern Front realize this and have very recently stated how they see a transition being made. They are not looking to take over the country, in fact as you will see from their in-depth statement below they want to see Syria as a very inclusive country with all being represented in the new government. When the regime falls there will probably still be large areas in the north and east of Syria under the control of Daesh but for the rest of the country there will be an opportunity to close a terrible chapter in the history of the beautiful country. Then with time it will be possible to regain territory from the extremists.

Below is the statement which was passed to me by the Chief Co-ordinator of the document and I also provide a link to a PDF of the release.

The Southern Front
Free Syrian Army
Transitional Phase
10.12.2014

STATEMENT NO. 4
THE TRANSITIONAL PHASE

The collapse of the current regime will not be the end of the Syrian people’s revolution. The end of the regime will be only the start of a new and, hopefully, final phase of the people’s struggle for freedom. In order to ensure that the final phase succeeds with the  establishment of a new national model of governance based on respect for human dignity and a rebirth of Syria’s tremendous potential, it is imperative that all nationalist forces commit to a course of action during the period of transition from authoritarianism that will fulfill the popular will.

Therefore,
The Southern Front announces that it will dedicate its efforts during the period of transition following the collapse of the regime to supporting:
First: the protection of all Syrian citizens, their property and their rights without any distinction of religion, culture, ethnicity, or political affiliation in accordance with International Humanitarian Law and the international standards of Human Rights.
Second: the maintenance of Syrian state institutions, including all ministries and military institutions.
Third: the integrity of the economic and service infrastructure of the state, including telecommunications, energy, water, and public and private transportation networks.
Fourth: the establishment of a process of inclusive, national, political reconstruction.

GENERAL FRAMEWORK

1- The Civil Defense Force:
Once the Assad regime collapses, the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army intends to transition from a military organization into a civilian defense force to contribute to establishing the appropriate conditions to enable a successful political transition in Syria. Among the primary objectives of a civilian defense force will be: protecting all citizens, maintaining all state institutions, and securing the infrastructure for the economic prosperity of the country. The Joint Command of the Southern Front is currently preparing itself for the moment of transition and is committed to implementing a detailed day-after plan to protect Damascus (the seat of government), prevent looting, protect citizens and state employees, and ensure that governmental institutions remain fully operational.

2- The Transitional Administration:
To guide the period of transition, the Southern Front will support efforts to establish a Transitional Administration. The Southern Front believes that no current state employees, identified for their competence and loyal service to the state, should be excluded from continuing to serve. In addition, the Transitional Administration should be open to senior defected government officials who return to the country to help in its reconstruction. The Southern Front, which by this time will have transformed into the the Civil Defense Forces, will support such an interim governing arrangement granted that it is non-political, and led by technocrats whose terms will end upon the completion of the interim or transitional phase. The first task of the Transitional Administration will be announcing the cessation of
all military operations and demanding foreign fighters to leave the country within a specified period of time. The Transitional Administration will also take steps to ensure that state institutions continue their routine work. It will announce to government officials including the judicial authority that their work will be guaranteed within the framework of the General Law. The civilian police will be requested to continue their work. The armed forces will be requested to remain temporarily in their barracks until security and order restored.
The current constitution will be immediately suspended and replaced by the original constitution of 1950 as an interim constitution until the drafting of a permanent constitution for the country that shall be approved by a popular referendum.

To ensure neutrality with respect to key decisions that need to be made during the critical transitional period, the Transitional Administration should issue an immediate appeal to the United Nations to form a “Syrian Transitional Phase Office” in Damascus as soon as possible with a special envoy of the UN Secretary General. This Office will be necessary to advise the Transitional Administration, coordinate foreign aid, and identify key requirements for the transition. It is also needed to recommend and supply experts and advisers to help rebuild the institutions of the state. To ease the pressure on the Transitional Administration, and to benefit from the best Syrian minds and intellects in guiding the transition, the “Syrian Transitional Phase Office” will be requested to appoint a Syrian Advisory Committee composed of qualified professionals to draft a framework and plans for the transitional period, according to a specific timetable. The Office will also request the presence of a UN observer missions and specialist teams.

The key tasks for UN and the Syrian Advisory Committee will be:

First: to establish the High Electoral Commission.
Second: to oversee general elections to choose an “interim” legislative authority within six months, paving the way for the formation of a constituent committee for the drafting of the constitution.
Third: to form a constituent committee to draft the permanent constitution for the country within one year.
Fourth: to hold a public referendum on the constitution after the completion of the work of the constituent committee.
Fifth: to implement national elections for a new parliament and government.

All bodies and formed by the “Syrian Transitional Phase Office” or by the Advisory Committee should be independent bodies. They should advice the Transitional Administration, but they should not be subject to it or overlap with it. The mandate of the Transitional Administration should be considered officially over after the holding of  elections for a new parliament and government.
Long Live Free Syria
The Southern Front
10.12.2014

Statement 4-The transitional phase

I will be back in the region in the near future to talk directly to Southern Front and should have more information for you some time in January. I’m very curious about what will happen. I think 2015 will be an interesting year.

This article is also published on DigitalJournal.com

ISIS. Do we really know what we are doing?

Much is being made of attempts to destroy ISIS but the question needs to be asked, will the current strategy work or will it lead to increased chaos in the Middle East?

ISIS

ISIS

 ISIS, or Daesh as they are called in the Middle East,appear not to be too worried about the USA-led coalition air-strikes. In fact they seem to have had very little impact so far.

The question being asked by governments in the region and around the world is what can be done to stop ISIS. They are effectively re-drawing the map of the Middle East, the Sykes-Picot Agreement has finally come undone. One of the things I find interesting is how little direct effort the governments of the Middle East as well as Egypt are putting into the fight considering the existential crisis which confronts them. Part of this comes down to culture, diverse Arab cultures do not have a history of being able to work together and coordinate efforts. Organization works along tribal lines rather than being based on national institutions. For this reason it is very difficult for them to collaborate in any coherent fashion.

More importantly however, is the fear of what could happen back home if they start fighting directly against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. As an example of this, as reported to me by personal contacts in Jordan, Jordan has chosen not to get involved in the fight with ISIS at the moment due to the sheer number of supporters it has in the country. The cities of Al Zarqa and Ma’en are hotbeds of support for ISIS and in many cases the police are too afraid to enter large parts of those cities. If Jordan were to get involved in fighting directly against ISIS it is quite likely domestic terrorism would be a result. The same goes for many countries in the region, underground support for ISIS is growing rapidly.

The question has be asked, why is this the case? From conversations I have had with sources in the region there seems to be a twofold reason. The first is disenfranchisement of large portions of the populations in the region. Unless you are born into the right tribe or family, your opportunities for education and a good job are severely curtailed. The view taken is that the governments of the region are seen as self-serving, corrupt and not caring about large parts of the population. In this respect, support for ISIS is more political rather than religious. ISIS is seen as a great equalizer, making sure that those who live under its rule will be equally looked after. As an ideal, it is very powerful in the minds of many who have been deprived for so long. It is difficult for our Western mindset to grasp this, but many in the region feel ISIS is the only way to deal with government corruption.

The second reason for support for ISIS is religious. Not in the sense of agreeing with its brand of Islam but rather the US led air-strikes are being seen as an attack on Islam in general. A source told me that when he takes a taxi, he always asks the driver for his opinion of ISIS. Invariably the response is always the same, that while he doesn’t like ISIS, attacks by the USA are understood to be part of a wider attack against Islam and if the situation called for it, he would go fight.

All of this brings us back to the USA’s strategy of how to deal with the extremists. Air-strikes are proving to be ineffective. Even if the decision were made to send in ground forces, it would be unlikely to have success, ISIS are very good at disappearing into the population, when I was in Menbij in Syria last year, it was already in the city but nobody knew it — they were simply waiting for the right time to take over. Added to this, if the USA and allies put boots on the ground, support for ISIS would explode, memories of the last war in Iraq are still very raw for many in the region. ISIS is trying to draw the USA further into conflict as it knows doing so will make it stronger.

So what is the solution? This is not an easy question to answer, at base this is an Arab problem which requires an Arab solution. First, the political reasons for why there is so much support for ISIS need to be addressed, being more inclusive for large parts of the population across the region and reducing government corruption.

Secondly, if there is going to be military action against ISIS it should be Arab led to avoid the strong impression of this being a war on Islam. Can it happen? I’m not so sure. There is too much division in strategy between the various countries of the region. For them to work together would require a huge change in mindset. Unfortunately, I see no end to the current situation and this war has the potential to carry on indefinitely.

For me personally, this is a very sad situation. I have a great fondness for the Middle East, based on my own experience and family history. I’m considered a brother by the Al-Zoubi family — actually they are a huge tribe which spans the Syrian-Jordanian border. The Arab people and also the Persians of Iran, are some of the warmest you could ever hope to meet. Across the region, the ordinary people want to live in peace but are having this opportunity torn away from them because of international politics as well as the governments of the region vying with each other for regional dominance. It is these things which allowed ISIS to grow and I don’t see them going away anytime soon.

This article is cross-posted from digitaljournal.com

Turkey stands by while ISIS and Kurds fight in Kobani

Despite the fact that heavy fighting is taking place between ISIS (Daesh) and Kurds in Kobani, Syria, all within spectator distance of the Turkish border, Turkey is refusing to do anything at the moment to help push back the Islamic extremists.

The main reason for this is because the Kurds in Kobani, in general, are said to be aligned with the PKK, which has been battling Turkey for many years for an autonomous Kurdish region. Turkey publicly says it is against Daesh but it would rather see them wipe out the Kurds in Kobani. It refuses to allow Kurds to cross the border into Syria to support their fellow Kurds in the fight. Unless something changes, Daesh will win the fight, they have heavy weapons and modern equipment vs a lightly armed Kurdish force.

Turkey is definitely preparing to take control of large parts of Syria along its border. It is also known that Turkey and Daesh have collaborated in areas of mutual interest. Another interesting fact is the tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of Osman 1 who founded the Ottoman empire and is most revered by Turks down to this day, is very close to Kobani. When the dust settles and the Kurds have been pushed out of Kobani, I expect to see Daesh make a strategic withdrawal allowing Turkey to come in and take over the area. What is also very interesting is that despite US airstrikes against Daesh targets in Kobani, they have proven ineffective and done nothing to stop the extremists advance. Could it be that the US is choosing not to try too hard here for strategic reasons?

This situation will develop further. Watch this space.

Turkey to create buffer zone in Syria?

It has been reported that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated at the World Economic Form meeting in Istanbul, that he wants to create a buffer zone inside Syria. The reason given is so the thousands of refugees who recently fled ISIS (Daesh) will be able to return to their homes in security.

To be honest, this is the perfect excuse Erdogan has been looking for to make a land grab in Syria. It is something I wrote about back in March as you can read here and again in April, here. Turkey is definitely the elephant in the room. It has been suspiciously tolerant of Daesh, allowing its fighters to cross the border as well as permitting the movement of weapons into Syria. What this suggests is that Turkish motivations for creating a buffer zone are not to be trusted. All the indications are that Turkey would love to reclaim some of the territory it had as part of the Ottoman empire. With nationalism being stoked in the country, this would be a popular move for Erdogan to make. On the opposite side of the coin, it could create a lot of tension with the Kurds who have created their own autonomous areas in northern Syria over the course of the conflict. If Turkey goes for the land grab, will the Kurds be allowed to continue governing themselves? Time will tell.

Syria will never go back to the borders it had before the conflict started, it is being divided up for geo-political reasons. In the process, the risk of unintended consequences increases. Now that the US led coalition is carrying out airstrikes on Daesh, the dynamic is changing, groups such as Jabhat al Nusra are collaborating with Daesh as now the attacks are seen as an attack on Islam. The operation to bomb them could ultimately lead to them becoming stronger and gaining even more support.

Watch this space.