FSA appeal to Kurds

Above: Aleppo Free Syrian Army statement calls on “the honorable Kurds” in Efrin “to put pressure on those gangs to withdraw from those violated towns.”

by Michael Karadjis

This piece deals with an aspect that many involved in the Syrian issue have strong views on, and no doubt will make some very unhappy – the issue of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its Peoples Protection Units (YPG) and their role in the current Russian-led Blitzkrieg against the Syrian rebels in Free Aleppo. As a long-time supporter of the Kurdish struggle for justice and self-determination, who formerly admired the PYD for the significant achievements it has made in Rojava, I had no interest in reaching such conclusions, but reality needs to be looked at in the face and analysed, not obscured by ideology and myths.

I welcome comments and discussion, and if that includes a reasonable amount of hate mail, that will indicate more about the haters than about my attempt at honest, if forthright, discussion of this important issue. All constructive criticism, even if harsh, will be seriously taken on board.

This piece is much too long, as much of it documents what exactly has been going on, and in particular which rebel groups are/were in control of various parts of Aleppo province that are under attack from the Russian-YPG alliance; both issues have been deliberately clouded by those defending this catastrophic course. Therefore, I have produced it more as a resource than an easy-reading essay.

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Introduction

Once the Russian Reich began its all-out Blitzkrieg against the Syrian revolutionary forces in Aleppo on behalf of the Assad regime – a massacre that has involved massive displacement, with tens or hundreds of thousands fleeing north towards Turkey, and the large-scale, deliberate targeting of hospitals, schools and other basic civilian infrastructure – a most unwelcome development occurred, that has led to much heated debate among supporters of the Syrian revolution.

Namely, the Kurdish-based People’s Protection Units (YPG), based in the Kurdish canton of Efrin on the western side of Aleppo province, launched an all-out attack on the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other rebels in Aleppo – ie, the very forces being bombed by the Russian imperialist onslaught – attacking and conquering rebel-held, Arab-majority towns throughout the region with the direct aid of Russian bombing.

Whatever the ups and downs in the relationship between the Syrian revolution as a whole and the ‘Rojava revolution’ before this point (and I believe both Syrian opposition and Kurdish leaderships can be faulted on many points), the only possible conclusion at this point is that the PYD/YPG has joined the counterrevolution on a massive scale, at its most murderous moment, the biggest knife that could possibly be put through any chances of Arab-Kurdish unity against the regime.

As many of the more progressive aspects of the Rojava revolution became apparent during 2014, I was as supportive and impressed as countless others were (though always holding back from the over-romanticisation of the process); I was also strongly supportive of what appeared to be a growing convergence between the YPG and the FSA during the defence of Kurdish Kobani against genocidal ISIS siege in late 2014.

Subjectively, therefore, I had no reason to want to reach such conclusions. However, for the Syrian revolution, the Russian imperialist Armageddon in Aleppo is every bit as decisive as Kobani’s resistance to the ISIS siege was for Rojava; yet, in contrast to the solidarity that the FSA extended to Kobani, the PYD has become a direct participant in the counterrevolutionary siege of Free Aleppo.

Of course, the YPG is a very small player in this act of mass homicide, whose major practitioners are Russia, Assad and Iran. Devoting an article to the role of the YPG does not suggest it bears the same level of responsibility. But these reactionary states do what reactionary states do; by contrast, when a supposedly revolutionary organisation claiming to be running a quasi-state on a radical-democratic basis joins the actions of imperialist invaders and the local fascist state, that deserves analysis.

One final point: Turkey. For months now, the Turkish regime has been waging its own war of terror against the Kurdish population in eastern Turkey, a brutal counterinsurgency against the PKK. Hundreds of civilians have been killed as the regime uses tanks, artillery and other heavy weaponry to terrorise the population into submission. Turkey, for its own reasons, is a main supporter of the anti-Assad rebellion in Syria. The difference in scale, is of course, phenomenal; Erdogan’s operation has been going on for months and has killed hundreds; Assad’s has been going on 5 years and has killed nearly half a million. Anyone with an ounce of human solidarity should have no trouble supporting the popular uprisings, and opposing regime counterinsurgencies, in both cases, regardless of issues of geopolitics or tactical alliances. Opponents of oppression do not see this as a contradiction.

The excuse of the PYD/YPG, that it is fighting “Turkish-backed groups,” is cynical in the extreme; if the YPG could employ US imperialism, which has committed far more crimes on a world scale than the Turkish regime, to help defend Kobani from ISIS, why is it wrong for the Syrian rebels to get essential help from Turkey against this gigantic genocidal assault? After all, if anyone has their backs to a wall, and tgus forced to get help fromm wherever they can, it is the Syrian rebels; by contrast, ‘Rojava’ has been untouched by Assad and is permanently protected by the US airforce. If Turkey were invading and bombing Kurdish Efrin and Syrian rebels were acting as ground troops and expelling the YPG from Kurdish areas, it should be vigorously condemned, yet this is not happening; the exact opposite of that is happening.

 

Background: PYD, YPG, SDF

The three main concentrations of Kurdish population in Syria, Efrin in northwest Aleppo province, Kobani in the far northeast of the province, and the larger Jazirah canton, including the city of Hasaka, in northeast Syria, have been ruled since mid-2012 by the PYD, a political party allied to the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey. The YPG, and its sister militia, the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), are the armed forces led by the PYD, though theoretically other non-PYD elements participate as well. They have declared these regions to be ‘Rojava’, meaning West Kurdistan, but do not aim to separate from Syria to form an independent Kurdish state. Rather, their official policy is to promote “Democratic Confederalism” throughout Syria, whereby the current Kurdish-majority Rojava regions are a mere nucleus, which allow them to demonstrate their model.

Supporters claim this model is based on radical council-based grass-roots democracy, is strongly feminist, and is multi-ethnic and non-sectarian. Critics claim that while democracy may well thrive at the council level, all major decisions are made by the PYD, which rules a one-party state that represses political opposition. Nevertheless, there does seem to be genuine drive to empower women, which is far ahead of much of the region; while assessments of the multi-ethnic element are mixed, with constitutional aspects that appear very good combined very serious charges – disputed by the PYD – of large-scale mistreatment of Arabs in some areas where the YPG has driven out ISIS. It is beyond the scope of this piece to seriously discuss this issue.

In 2015, the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) was set up as a front led by the PYD/YPG to incorporate some of its smallish non-Kurdish allies. Its aims speak only of fighting ISIS, not the regime, and it has been strongly backed by the US, which sees it as a useful vehicle via which to blunt Turkey’s objections to its military alliance with the YPG, while supporting an anti-ISIS force that makes no problem for the Assad regime, which the US aims to keep in power.

  • In the Jazirah region, the YPG’s main Arab ally in the SDF is the al-Sanadid militia, based among the Shammar tribe (which indirectly involves the YPG in inter-tribal rivalries in the region). While the Shammar have mostly been anti-regime, there are some indications that al-Sanadid itself has had regime connections in the past. Whatever the case, it was never an FSA-connected group.
  • In the Kobani-Raqqa region, the YPG was allied to a number of FSA groups in the defence of Kobani in late 2014, but the major local FSA group involved – the Raqqa Revolutionaries Brigade – has seriously fallen out with the YPG (http://syriadirect.org/news/tribes%E2%80%99-army-disbands-in-north-amidst-accusations-of-ypg-blockade/), and so the US has refused to arm it to liberate its Raqqa homeland (http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/world/article41559747.html); there are however a few smaller FSA groups (eg Northern Sun Brigade) still allied to the YPG in the SDF; and if this includes some representation from Arab opposition in tiny Jarablous, this could give some validity to a YPG-led move against the far eastern end of the ISIS-held border strip.
  • In Aleppo, the main non-YPG element of the SDF is Jaysh al-Thuwar, which seems to consist of a handful of ex-FSA fighters mainly motivated by vengeance against Nusra after the latter attacked and destroyed the FSA brigade Harakat Hazm in January 2015 (the vast majority of ex-Hazm cadres likewise detest Nusra, but continue to see the main enemies as Assad and ISIS and so joined other FSA brigades or the Shamiya Front in the region). In Idlib, Jaysh al-Thuwar/SDF seems to be essentially mythical.

 

‘Linking’ Kobane and Afrin: a reactionary irredentist plan

First I want to clarify something about the ethnic configuration of the region in question, which is very relevant in understanding the current conflict, and one reason for the PYD’s fateful decision. The PYD states that it plans to “link” the Kurdish canton of Efrin with the Kurdish canton of Kobane. Polat Can, a senior PYD official, recently stated that “We in the YPG have a strategic goal, to link Afrin with Kobani. We will do everything we can to achieve it” (http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/world/middle-east/article41559747.html).

Aleppo is a very large province, not just the large city that is its capital. The Kurdish majority cantons of Efrin and Kobani, both along the northern border with Turkey, are situated at the far west and the far east of Aleppo province respectively. Both are part of the PYD’s ‘Rojava’ state.

However, the 60-mile stretch between Efrin and Kobani is not ‘Rojava’, as is often blithely claimed by Rojava-Firsters. Here is a demographic map http://gulf2000.columbia.edu/images/maps/Syria_Ethnic_summary_lg.png:

Syria demographic map

Enlarge the Aleppo section of it, and you can follow what I am talking about below:

  • Beginning in the north-west of the province, the green section is Kurdish Efrin
  • Next along the northern border is the yellow section, the heavily Arab-populated territory controlled by the rebels, currently under attack by the Russia/Assad/YPG alliance, beginning with a narrow neck on the Turkish border with the town of Azaz, just to the east of Efrin, and then widening out south of Azaz and forming the great bulk of western and southern Aleppo province (which then connects to rebel-held territory in neighbouring Idlib and northern Hama); this includes half the city of Aleppo itself (the other half is controlled by the regime, which is connected to a thin neck of territory further south, but it controls nothing north of the city).
  • Back north to the Turkish border, to the east of the rebel-controlled Azaz-Marea-Aleppo ‘vertical’ corridor begins ISIS-controlled eastern Aleppo province. The bluish-coloured western part of the ISIS-run border strip is heavily Turkmen-populated, one of the most Turkmen-populated parts of Syria;
  • Further east again, still under ISIS, is the Arab-populated Jarablus region, coloured yellow, on the west side of the Euphrates
  • Just to the east of Jarablus, across the Euphrates, is green-coloured Kurdish Kobani

Quite simply, therefore, the PYD/YPG has no god-given right to “link” separate Kurdish-majority regions by annexing Arab-majority and Turkmen-majority territory! Yes, there are other Kurdish—majority regions under ISIS control further south from the Turkish border, which the YPG has a right to seize (eg Manbij, south of Jarablus), but clearly the only “link” that can be established between Afrin and Kobani is one based on Arab-Kurdish-Turkmen solidarity (ie, the thing that is being blown to bits at the moment)

Turkey’s opposition to the PYD’s aim of “linking” Kobani and Efrin is, of course, based on Turkey’s anti-Kurdish interests; it does not follow, however, that just because Turkish nationalist motivations are bad, that Kurdish nationalist plans to ride roughshod over non-Kurdish populations are justified. Thus the opposition of the local rebels, based among the local peoples, to this PYD plan, while it happens to coincide with Turkey’s interests, is just in its own right.

The dangerously Kurdish chauvinist aim would, if carried out, lead to massive bloodshed; is this part of the aim of the current YPG offensive under Russian air cover? And if so, doesn’t this suggest that the rebels were right all along to be suspicious of the PYD’s motives?

As for Turkey itself, the regime has two separate motivations in its Syria policy; one is its reactionary anti-Kurdish interest, especially as it now wages its own war of terror against its Kurdish population in eastern Turkey; the other is its interest in getting rid of the source of the massive instability on its borders that has led to Turkey being overwhelmed by 2.5 million Syrian refugees, ie, the Assad regime. Thus the article cited above by Roy Gutman is not wrong where it says that one of Turkey’s reasons to oppose such a move is that it “fears that if the YPG seizes the corridor, millions more Syrian Arabs and Turkmens will flee to Turkey” (http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/world/middle-east/article41559747.html, though “millions” is certainly an exaggeration).

Moreover, as Leila al-Shami, co-author of ‘Burning Country’, puts it, the very “attempts to carve out a new state through linking the cantons” is in sharp contradiction to “the idea of democratic confederalism” which she says she “strongly supports” (https://leilashami.wordpress.com/2016/02/25/the-assault-on-aleppo/#more-368) – let alone  when such a state is created via military conquest, Russian air power and destruction of the revolutionary councils of the Arab peoples living in this “link.”

 

The demand for “evidence” of Russia/YPG coordination

Faced with the reality of the YPG’s flagrant participation in the Russian-led Blitzkrieg, a number of Rojava-Firsters have been demanding “evidence.” I have some trouble understanding the demand, since it is all over the news that the YPG has been attacking and conquering these rebel-held towns; and also that Russia is bombing these rebel towns. I was therefore unsure whether this meant that some hadn’t been reading the news, or whether it was a demand for secret documents proving coordination; because, for example, maybe Russia and the YPG attacking the same towns at the same time was just coincidence. Since I don’t have such documents, and consider such coincidence unlikely, I have just put together some “evidence” for those who simply haven’t been watching.

First though, it is true that there were initial reports that a few villages had asked the rebels to leave, and for the YPG to take over, not out of love for the YPG, but so that they wouldn’t get bombed into oblivion by Russia. In these instances, we cannot fault the YPG. But the idea that this was the rule, rather than the exception, was soon belied by massive evidence of fighting and armed resistance to these YPG conquests by the local FSA defenders.

But then there are other excuses. The PYD’s Salih Muslim asks “Do they want the Nusra Front to stay there, or for the regime to come and occupy it?” This actually combines two excuses. First, he asserts that it is OK for the YPG to seize these towns (even with the help of Russian bombing) if they are run by Nusra (me: it still wouldn’t be); implying that they are mostly run by Nusra (me: they’re not, as we will see below), indeed, the YPG has a habit of calling whichever rebels it is fighting, or Russia is bombing, “Nusra.”

Second, he is claiming that it is OK for the YPG to conquer these towns while the Russians bomb them, because the YPG’s intentions are good; the Russians are bombing them anyway, and Assad will try to conquer them, so better we conquer them, even against local resistance, because we are preferable to the regime.

Yet if the YPG had stood in solidarity with the local rebel brigades and said “we will not conquer you, but if the regime comes, we will help defend you,” then they would have been able to keep Assad out – not to mention what it would have done for Arab-Kurdish solidarity.

An even more fantastic version of the events is given by İlham Ehmed, Co-President of the Syrian Democratic Council, the political body connected to the SDF, in an unfortunate article in Green Left Weekly (https://www.greenleft.org.au/node/61132). Repeating the disgusting slander that “the majority of the opposition forces in the region are loyal to Jabhat Al-Nusra,” and “are proxies with no political program, she added the further lie that this “is why they ran away after recent Russian bombardments”! Ehmed claimed that the YPG was therefore “trying to prevent the advance of regime forces by capturing the areas evacuated by jihadis.” So all the countless reports, and videos, of YPG fighting against local FSA and rebel forces as they conquer these towns under Russian bombs are just phantoms; the YPG is merely occupying empty towns. I’m sure Orwell would love to meet these folk.

Below is some evidence of the YPG-Russian attack on rebel towns, and of rebel resistance:

Syrian Observer reports on how the Aleppo province council “has been forced to leave its main base in the town of Hreitein and carry out its work from inside a tent east of the city of Azaz” after being attacked by Russian warplanes and “the advance of Assad’s forces,” but this was not the first displacement of the council, as it was preceded by the displacement from its previous base in the town of Deir al-Jamaal, which the Kurdish People’s Protection Units seized months ago, as a result of Russian aircraft targeting the base” (http://syrianobserver.com/EN/News/30611/Aleppo_Province_Council_Operating_Out_Tent_Near_Azaz).

In the article “Moderate Syrian rebel factions face wipeout’ (http://www.voanews.com/content/moderate-syrian-rebel-factions-face-wipe-out/3180474.html), we read:

“YPG and rebel factions have been protecting civilians as they travel from Azaz. But at the same time the YPG has launched attacks on Islamist and moderate rebel factions around Afrin, seeking to expand the Kurdish enclave. Russian airstrikes on Saturday helped Kurdish fighters alongside militiamen from Jaysh al-Thwar, a YPG Sunni Arab ally, to capture the strategic Tal Zinkah hill north of Aleppo,” and in the same article, PYD leader Salih Muslim is quoted as saying that “the Russian airstrikes are targeting terrorists, Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra.”

Likewise, Syria Direct (http://syriadirect.org/news/side-campaign-in-north-aleppo-raises-fears-of-sdf-linking-kobani-to-afrin/), reports on the lead-up to the SDF capture of the Minagh airbase:

“Russian warplanes, which have been essential to the Syrian regime’s progress in the north, bombed rebel positions around the Minagh airport Wednesday as battles raged between the SDF and rebels, reported pro-opposition Aleppo News Network Wednesday. A war journalist present at the airport front confirmed to Syria Direct that Russian planes had carried out 16 airstrikes Wednesday on rebel positions there. On Tuesday, the SDF took control of two villages and a military base on the outskirts of the Minagh military airport” (and captured the base on Wednesday).

The same article, also reports on the truce negotiated at the end of the December skirmishes between the FSA and the YPG/SDF, stipulating that “the FSA would not move towards Kurdish-controlled areas and vice-versa.” It is fairly obvious who broke that eminently sensible truce, as the article continues:

“This week’s incursion into rebel-held areas in northern Aleppo is the fourth truce violation between them and the Marea Operations Room, Mohammed Najem a-Din, correspondent with pro-opposition Smart News, told Syria Direct Wednesday. “The SDF and Jaish al-Thuwwar have taken advantage of rebels being busy fighting the regime on Nubl and Zahraa” in order to make gains into their territory, said Najem a-Din.”

Syrian Observer (http://www.syrianobserver.com/EN/News/30560/Syrian_Democratic_Forces_Advance_Towards_Tel_Rifaat_Under_Russian_Air_Support) reported that:

“The Western-backed Syrian Democratic Forces achieved a significant military victory in the area of Tel Rifaat in the northern Aleppo countryside, seizing control of the village of Kafrnaya to its south … one day after they captured Ayn Daqnah, in an effort to blockade the town from three sides. The sources said that Russian warplanes had been providing covering fire for the SDF during its attempt to enter the town and attacked opposition positions with dozens of rockets and bombs.”

According to Scott Lucas (http://eaworldview.com/2016/02/syria-daily-kurdish-pyd-we-will-not-pull-back-v-turkey-and-rebels/):

“With rebels under pressure from a regime-Russian-Iranian-Hezbollah offensive north of Aleppo city, Kurdish forces began advancing earlier this month into rebel areas, taking a series of villages and the town of Deir Jawad on the Turkish border. … Despite the Turkish intervention, the Kurdish forces are still advancing. They captured Ayn Daqna, east of Azaz, on Sunday. They also are continuing assaults on the important town of Tal Rifaat, having been repelled on Friday and Saturday. Russia is now openly supporting the Kurdish attacks with airstrikes — at least 15 were reported on Tal Rifaat on Sunday.”

Lucas report also noted that the media activist Ahmad Khatib “was killed in the fighting for Tal Rifaat,” as was his brother.

According to the just-released Amnesty report on the deliberate Russian/Assadist campaign to bomb hospitals (https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/syrian-and-russian-forces-have-deliberately-targeted-hospitals-near-aleppo#.Vtfha0kwkrg.twitter):

“Two doctors and an activist from the city of Tel Rifaat who left two days before the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, took control of the town on 15 February, told Amnesty that all three health facilities – including a field hospital, a rehabilitation centre and a kidney dialysis centre – were directly targeted by missiles during the week of 8 February, just as the ground offensive on the town began. The attacks injured six members of the medical team and three civilian patients, leaving the population with no working medical facility. Doctor “Faraj” (his real name has been withheld for security reasons), who manages the field hospital, rehabilitation and kidney dialysis centre, told Amnesty:

The Kurds started gaining control of some villages in the northern part of Aleppo Countryside at the beginning of February and they were advancing towards Tel Rifaat. As they approached, Russian and Syrian forces targeted medical facilities. As a result, the civilians injured from the indiscriminate shelling had to be transferred to the Syrian-Turkish border because the hospitals were no longer operational.”

Meanwhile, Roy Gutman (http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/02/16/syria-ceasefire-brings-turkey-closer-to-war/) writes:

“Moscow actually stepped up its barrage of missiles and cluster bombs targeting primarily rebel-held towns close to Aleppo and on their main supply route to Turkey. Russia has even coordinated its airstrikes with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which captured towns and villages held by anti-Assad rebels after an intensive bombing campaign,” going on to give some stunning detail:

“In Tal Rifaat, a town of 30,000 that lies close to the main route from Turkey to Aleppo, Russian aircraft carried out an average 100 airstrikes a day this past weekend, emptying the town of its inhabitants and thousands of displaced, who fled to the Turkish border, according to humanitarian aid officials. The YPG captured the town on Monday.”

Gutman continues with the claim that:

“Faced with a manpower shortage, the Assad regime is relying on the Kurdish YPG to seize key real estate from rebels on the main route to Turkey.”

I mean, is all this what is meant by evidence? Or is this all just coincidence?

Meanwhile, there have been so many tweets/direct reports from the field of YPG attacks/conquests with Russian air support that I could fill pages with them, but hopefully the facts are now clear. Here’s a few:

Syrian Kurds backed by Russian airstrikes advance on Syrian airbase
http://rudaw.net/NewsDetails.aspx?pageid=193414
Aleppo: Syrian Rebels recaptured Al Alagamiyah & Al Shil’aa after heavy clashes with YPG & treacherous so called “Jaish Thuwar” https://twitter.com/Malcolmite/status/697120652218798080
YPG has sent an ultimatum to the FSA and Ahrar Al-Sham and other groups, either give them the Menagh Airbase or they will take it militarily https://twitter.com/VivaRevolt/status/697096507250581506
Following airstrikes by the Russian Air Force, the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) in the enclave of Afrin in northern Aleppo province took control of Ziyarah
http://www.almasdarnews.com/…/ypg-take-ziyarah-in…/
YPG has captured Maarnaz from FSA-Ahrar Al-Sham. https://twitter.com/VivaRevolt/status/696428417584070657
YPG seized Maranaz and Deir Jamal villages in northern Aleppo after clashes with the rebels, mainly Shami front (former Tawheed brigade) https://twitter.com/Abduhark/status/696646293536563200
YPG/Jaish al-Thuwar have taken Deir Jamal from the rebels , with Russian air support https://twitter.com/Paradoxy13/status/696476896616390656

With Russian Airstrikes, YPG progressing around Azaz
https://twitter.com/DrPartizan_/status/695386827541184516

Kurds militias withdraw their positions surrounding #Azaz after heavy clashes with #FSA HEROES. #Aleppo cs #Syria FEB 11 https://twitter.com/AEJKhalil/status/697894948109225984

Finally, Jim Rodney M points us to http://syria.liveuamap.com/en/time/01.02.2016, which shows the day to day events; he has been following it closely and says its shows “the SAA and allies pushed up through the east of Aleppo city while Russian bombers destroyed everything in their path. They met resistance all along the way but advanced to Nubl and Zahraa where they were then face to face with the YPG between Dayr Jamal and Mayer but instead of confronting each other they shared a battle line against free Syrians while the YPG advanced west under Russian air power taking town after town culminating in completely cutting Arab rebels off from Aleppo. … There is no other way to describe the events other than to say the YPG and the Assadi axis are allied with each other in a common assault against free Syrians.”

Meanwhile, the #‎Aleppo LCC reports on alleged meetings between SDF, Russian and Assad regime representatives in Efrin, and claims “The Russian side asserted to SDF intensifying the airstrikes on Azaz city and Aleppo northern suburb so SDF can advance and take over ‪#‎Izaz city and ‪#‎Tal_Rafaat town and Assad’s forces can advance toward Aleppo city,” as well as an earlier meeting where they allegedly agreed for the SDF to take the Menagh airbase: (https://www.facebook.com/LCCSY2011/posts/1720204668120076?fref=nf).

  

Which rebel groups control the towns under Russian/YPG attack?

Aleppo map who controls what

Map of northern Aleppo before latest fighting, showing control by Rojava Kurds (yellow), rebels (green), regome (red) and ISIS (black), source: https://media.almasdarnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/untitled24.png

The other main issue often arising in discussion is that of which rebel groups control the various parts of Aleppo now under attack.

For many Rojava-Firsters, this is a good excuse to support this counterrevolutionary action: “Oh, but that area is controlled by Nusra, so it’s good that the “democratic” forces are ejecting them” (even if with Russian air power – let me try that: Oh, but Iraq is run by Saddam Hussein, who is an extremely brutal tyrant, so of course we need to fight on the side of the US Blitzkrieg to unseat him, etc etc).

A particularly disgusting (and disappointing in the extreme, given the source) example of this was a tweet sent by the head of the leftist/Kurdish-based HDP in Turkey, Selahattin Demirtaş: “Davutoğlu says #Azez won’t fall. Who’s in Azez? Al Nusra and Ahrar ash-Sham. Rapists & people who sell women” (https://twitter.com/hdpenglish/status/701036280751247361).

Now the level of outright racism and dehumanisation in this tweet is unbelievable (so ordinary Arabic people don’t live there? Were the babies killed by Russian bombing of the maternity hospital there also rapists?); and of course it is also a lie that either Nusra or Ahrar al-Sham engage in a policy of rape (that would be the Assad regime) or sell women (ISIS), regardless of their other sins. But as we will see, it is also a lie about who is actually in control of Azaz.

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First, however, I disagree with the premise in any case. It is up to the local peoples to choose their political/military leaderships in revolutionary situations (in the same way as the PYD/YPG is in control of Kurdish regions), and to change them; and even if we dislike some of them, it is not up to an outside force; still less one operating with Russian air support, to forcefully eject them; and the ethnic factor in a military attack cannot be ignored, even if the SDF may theoretically be very good on the multi-ethnic issue.

And even in the case of Nusra, a group I detest, it is a new development in left-wing thinking that it is OK to be on the side of an invading imperialist power bombing the country to bits against even a reactionary local militia; in the conditions of this genocide from the sky, if even Nusra got its hands on good anti-aircraft missiles and shot dozens of Russian warplanes out of the sky it would be a victory for all humanity (and anyone wanted to now express outrage, kindly express it to children ripped to bits by Russian bombs in Aleppo).

In addition, most areas have been controlled by coalitions of rebel groups. Trying to single out areas allegedly controlled only by “Nusra” would be very frustrating; in general there is a loose military alliance between all the factions confronting the Assad regime/ISIS, necessary due to the overwhelming military superiority of those two (especially the regime), and their cooperation. Politically, Nusra tends to stand out on a limb compared to all other groups, but in military terms, it is entirely sensible for the FSA to reject the years-long US-prodding to wage war on Nusra now (though the FSA often finds itself clashing with Nusra *in defence* against Nusra transgressions). And in any case, as we’ll see below, Nusra has much less to do with the Aleppo fighting than is commonly made out.

But anyway, below is a little summary.

 

Azaz

First, on Azaz. In September 2013, ISIS seized Azaz from the ‘Northern Storm’ brigade of the Free Syrian Army. Before that, Northern Storm had put up a several-month resistance to furious ISIS siege, thereby also protecting PYD-controlled Afrin further west; the YPG did not lift a finger. But in January 2014, the FSA and other rebels drove ISIS out of the whole of western Syria (and temporarily much of eastern Syria), and so it was of course driven from Azaz. Since January 2014 Azaz has again been the major connection between the rebels and sources of funds, arms, trade, refuge etc in Turkey. That is why it is so crucial for the rebels to keep control of Azaz.

Since then, the main militia controlling it has again been FSA Northern Storm (Liwa Asifat al-Shamal (according to this well-researched article from January 2015: http://www.aymennjawad.org/15865/special-report-northern-storm-and-the-situation), just as it was before September 2013; therefore, the YPG has attacked, with the aid of Russian airstrikes on children’s hospitals, those who previously protected it. This article continues: “also present within Azaz town but lacking any governing authority is Syria’s al-Qa’ida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra” (it runs a mosque), while Northern Storm “also solely controls the (nearby) town of Sawran” (http://www.aymennjawad.org/15865/special-report-northern-storm-and-the-situation).

Notably, despite long-term tension between Azaz and Efrin, there has also been significant cooperation, which underlined the potential, and the folly of the YPG’s siege of Azaz:

“However, there was some limited cooperation of convenience in the fight to drive ISIS out … Since Northern Storm returned to Azaz officially under the authority of Liwa al-Tawhid and the Islamic Front in Aleppo (now the Levant Front), there has been official neutrality despite suspicion that reinforcements come from Afrin to the regime-held Shi’a villages of Nubl and Zahara. Securing water from Afrin would therefore require greater outreach to the PYD, which may be one of the underlying reasons behind the agreement publicly announced in February (2015) between the PYD’s military wing the YPG and the Levant Front, stipulating a united judicial system, establishing joint Shari’a and da’wah offices in Aleppo and Afrin, and working together to crack down on crime. Of course, Jabhat al-Nusra is opposed to any such arrangements with the PYD/YPG, which it considers to be apostate entities” (http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/the-administration-of-the-local-council-in-azaz/).

 

Menagh airbase

Syria Direct (http://syriadirect.org/news/side-campaign-in-north-aleppo-raises-fears-of-sdf-linking-kobani-to-afrin/) reports that the base had been held by a combination of Ahrar a-Sham and Jabha al-Shamiya (also known as Shamiya Front, or Levant Front). Meanwhile, we also read that the “YPG has sent an ultimatum to the FSA and Ahrar Al-Sham and other groups, either give them the Menagh Airbase or they will take it militarily” (https://twitter.com/VivaRevolt/status/697096507250581506), while a statement by the FSA FastaqemUnion claims it was “under the national brigades of the FSA” (https://twitter.com/FkoUnion/status/698990013007196168). Rudaw also claims the YPG seized it from “the Levant Front,” ie, Shamiya Front (http://rudaw.net/english/middleeast/syria/11022016).

Thus it seems we had FSA, Shamiya Front, and Ahrar al-Sham. The claim that “Nusra” was there at all now seems most likely to just be standard YPG propaganda. Leaving aside the FSA, these other two forces may be called ‘Islamists’; as Leila al-Shami explains, “the Islamists represent the conservative culture of rural Aleppo. They are comprised primarily of Aleppo’s sons, brothers and fathers” who “have strong local support” (https://leilashami.wordpress.com/2016/02/25/the-assault-on-aleppo/). However, they are two very different strads of ‘Islamist’. Ahrar al-Sham is a relatively hard-line Islamist militia, but as al-Shami says, genuinely based in the community, and moreover, it has continually condemned violations by Nusra (eg, see this vigorous condemnation of Nusra’s attack on the Druze in northern Idlib https://twitter.com/Charles_Lister/status/609449774673211392), and even clashed with it recently.

As for the Shamiya Front, while it can also be broadly described as ‘Islamist’, this is only true in the same sense that various Christian “liberation theology” movements could be described as “political Christian” (for those who immediately express outrage, I recommend quickly checking your pulse for Islamophobia levels). A coalition of starkly moderate, FSA-aligned ‘Islamists’ – nothing like Ahrar al-Sham or Jaysh Islam – who have all played leading roles in the war against ISIS, the Shamiya Front’s ‘Islamist’ credentials are best shown in this video where they treat ISIS prisoners to a mock execution, with a terrific ending: http://www.news.com.au/technology/syrian-rebel-brigade-al-shamiya-front-punk-isis-prisoners-with-mock-execution/news-story/a70b7280f010cccbd6a7136c03848e84.

In a recent Op-Ed in FP, Shamiya Front leader Abdallah al-Othman says they are “local fighters who wish to attain democracy and defend our hometowns from slaughter,” and declares “the Levant Front desires a Syria that is free and pluralistic, with respect for human rights, peaceful elections, and the rule of law” (http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/02/17/fighting-for-aleppo-abandoned-by-the-world-islamic-state-levant-front-isis/).

Does an ‘Islamist’ group like this really deserve to be attacked by YPG/SDF thugs supported by Russian terror bombing?


Tel Rifaat

 It is very difficult to get a clear idea of who exactly “controls” the iconic revolutionary town Tel Rifaat, if not simply a coalition like elsewhere. What we do know is that it was in Tel Rifaat that ISIS mastermind, Hajji Bakr, was killed by rebels as the anti-ISIS war began in earnest early January 2014; and his family was taken prisoner by Liwa al-Tawhid, the strikingly moderate ‘Islamist’ brigade that previously dominated Aleppo before breaking apart when its leader was killed by Assad. So ‘moderate’ in fact, that one former part of it, the Northern Sun Brigade, is now with SDF (so they have ‘Islamists’ too!), though most simply became Shamiya Front.

Tel Rifaat has seen months of demonstrations in support of the revolution, demanding that the revolutionary brigades unite to face their enemies (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hEBtN-RK-Y), where the only flags we see are FSA flags; activists in Tel Rifaat released a statement demanding leaders resign to take responsibility for recent defeats , leading to the deputy commander of the Shamiya Front doing just that, in a small sign of grass-roots democracy in action (http://syriadirect.org/news/rebel-leader-resigns-amidst-aleppo-protests/). Not quite the kind of town that needs to be “liberated” by hundreds of Russian air strikes (as one of the sources I quoted above described).

Meanwhile, here is a charming video showing victorious YPG fighters (well, that is if you call victory by Russian air strikes a “victory” by the YPG) gloating over the bodies of FSA defenders of Tel Rifaat: https://www.facebook.com/BABAMAMABOBO/posts/1118834781494675

 

Mare (Marea)

In fact it is still uncertain whether or not Mare – another iconic revolutionary centre and the front-line in the war against ISIS – has fallen to the Russian-YPG offensive or not. Some days ago, YPG sources claimed that the local rebels had reached a deal with them. Of course this is possible – when confronted with the dilemma “do you want to let our Russian allies obliterate you, and Assad forces take over, or just give up and let us take over?” Which is hardly an argument that that YOG is carrying out a humanitarian operation. But in any case, FSA sources claim to still be in control.

Mare is run by the Mare Operations Room. According to the very reliable ‘archcivilians’ site (https://twitter.com/archicivilians/status/671741957706788864/photo/1), this consists of the Suqor al-Jabal Brigade (FSA, also known as the Falcons of Mount Zawiya Brigade, previously part of the 5th Corp), the Fursan al-Haq brigade (FSA, now fused with other FSA groups as the Northern Division), Liwa Ahrar al-Surya (FSA), the Fastaqim Kama Umirt Union (FSA), and Faylaq al-Sham, the Muslim Brotherhood connected brigade, also loosely associated with the FSA on the same ‘soft-Islamist’ wavelength as the Shamiya Front. A Wikipedia page adds the Shamiya Front, which would seem likely. Some sources (http://syrianobserver.com/EN/News/30384/Free_Syrian_Army_Expels_ISIS_from_Aleppo_Villages), add the Turkmen-based Sultan Murad Brigade (FSA), and some add Ahrar al-Sham, both of which also seem likely. No sources anywhere suggest Nusra.

It has been the Mare Operations Room that has been signing ceasefires with the YPG over the last 6 months of on and off skirmishes connected to the appearance of a handful of embittered ex-FSA fighters known as ‘Jaysh al-Thuwar’ (the main non-YPG component of the SDF in Aleppo). The last ceasefire in December called for neither side to cross into the other side’s territories (which Jaysh al-Thuwar had done in December, seizing four FSA-held towns, with Russian air support). It is pretty obvious who has now broken the ceasefire.

According to this article, ISIS and the YPG are both attacking revolutionary Marea at the same time: http://syriadirect.org/news/is-and-sdf-each-attack-rebel-held-marea-%E2%80%9Cevery-brigade-is-striving-to-build-their-dreams-on-our-guts%E2%80%9D /

 

Aleppo City

As for Aleppo itself, a mega-coalition, Fatah Halab (Aleppo Conquest), dominates here, initially set up by 31 mostly FSA brigades (all the big ones, eg Fursan al-Haq, Divisions 13, 16 and 101, others listed above in Marea), along with all the soft-Islamist brigades (Shamiya Front, Nour al-Din al-Zenki, Authenticity Front, Jaysh Mujahideen, Faylaq al-Sham), and also Ahrar al-Sham, but not Nusra (http://archicivilians.WORDPRESS.com/2015/06/18/infographic-fatah-halab-military-operations-room-coalition-of-31-rebel-factions-syria). It was later joined by another 19 small, locally-based FSA brigades (https://twitter.com/BosnjoBoy/status/626060428519571456).

Much has also been written about the system of local councils in Aleppo, though years of barrel bombing have no doubt made these much less functional than they might be. However, this description of grass-roots struggle in Aleppo by Leila al-Shami gives a good picture of what is at stake:

“When we talk of ‘liberated areas’ it’s more than just rhetoric. Under threat in Aleppo are the different local councils which ensure the governance of each area and have kept providing services to the local population in the absence of the state. We are talking about more than 100 civil society organizations (the second largest concentration of active civil society groups anywhere in the country). These include some 28 free media groups, women’s organizations and emergency and relief organizations such as the Civil Defense Force. It also includes educational organizations such as Kesh Malek which provides non-ideological education for children, often in people’s basements, to ensure school continues under bombardment. Under Assad’s totalitarian state, independent civil society was non-existent and no independent media sources existed. But in Free Aleppo democracy is being practiced as the people themselves self-organize and run their communities” (https://leilashami.wordpress.com/2016/02/25/the-assault-on-aleppo/).

 

Where is Nusra?

It is interesting to note that, despite the constant refrain of “Nusra” being everywhere, this close reading of the sources suggests Nusra only has a secondary presence in Azaz, that it may or may not be represented at the Menagh base (and if it is, again in a very secondary role), that it does not exist in Mare or Tel Rifaat, and that in Aleppo it is the only militia excluded from the grand military coalition. Of course, Nusra does exist, and operates more on its own, as well as in a separate military front with Ahrar al-Sham (Ansar al-Saria, ie, Ahrar operates in both Fatah Halab and in Ansar al-Sharia); and appears to be more present further south, in southern Aleppo near its main base in Idlib.

But its relative absence is in fact no mystery: mid-last year, when Turkey began calling for a “safe zone” along the Turkish border to settle refugees, allegedly to include a Turkish-backed push by rebels to expel ISIS from the region between Azaz and Jarablus – a plan blocked by the US – Nusra was the only brigade in Aleppo to oppose this plan. Strikingly, for a group that is often bandied about as “Turkish-backed,” Nusra declared Turkey to be motivated only by its “national security interests” and not by Syrian interests, declaring it to be “not a strategic decision emanating from the free will of the armed factions,” though the rebels “have the ability to combat ISIS — if they unite through means sanctioned by sharia law… without seeking the help of international or regional forces” (https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/NewsReports/565709-nusra-withdraws-from-turkey-border).

Therefore, Nusra  announced its withdrawal from Azaz, Marea, Tel Rifaat and all the more northern and eastern regions, which have now been under attack (thus even the first link above, which in January 2015 said Nusra had a secondary presence in Azaz, may be old information).

In a later interview, Nusra chief Joulani explicitly declared that Turkey’s “national security” issue, which Nusra did not want to be involved with, was “the Kurds,” and clarified, that Nusra withdrew from northern Aleppo countryside not to ease the way for the Turkish zone as some had suggested, but because “we don’t see it permissible to fight ISIS under a Turkish or an international coalition air cover” (https://t.co/3gldQBYqY9).

(As an aside: Regardless of my very low opinion of Nusra, this declaration actually showed a strange political intelligence; much as I would be sympathetic to the reasons for the entire non-Nusra rebellion supporting such a Turkish move, it is interesting that the most reactionary organisation had the clearest understanding that Turkey would be acting in its own interests which do not necessarily coincide those of the Syrian masses. So calling Nusra a Turkish-backed group has no basis. And the fact that Nusra saw these Turkish interests, which it wanted no part of, as being anti-Kurdish, indicates that Nusra’s hostility to the PYD is more political (opposed to the PYD’s politics) and monopolistic (Nusra has attacked FSA brigades far more than it has attacked the YPG), rather than “anti-Kurdish” as such).

 

Conclusion: An attack on the Syrian revolution and possible suicide for Rojava revolution

It is difficult to call this turn of events anything other than an outright betrayal of the revolution by the YPG leadership, with likely catastrophic results for all concerned. Right now, the YPG is a direct participant in the catastrophe of the Arabic peoples of the Aleppo region and their revolution, in direct partnership with the Russian Blitzkrieg and therefore indirect (to be charitable) partnership with the fascist regime and its Iranian-led global sectarian invaders.

Tomorrow, this betrayal may also be catastrophic for the Kurdish civilians and their own revolution as well. While it is not unusual for nationalist leaderships to make decisions based on the narrow interests of their own nation (one would have expected better from an officially left leadership, but anyway), in this case it is short-sighted even from this narrow point of view. The Assadist representative at Geneva, Bashar al-Jaafari, made a point of telling the PYD that they should forget about autonomy or federalism, “take the idea of separating Syrian land out of your mind” … “we have said before our theme for these talks is Syrians in Syria and our precondition is to protect the unity of the land and Syrian nation” (http://rudaw.net/english/middleeast/syria/310120162). When you add to this a couple of recent regime bombings of the YPG, the regime is essentially laughing at the Kurdish leadership even as it declares that “these Syrian Kurds supported by the American administration are also supported by the Syrian government” – a “support” which goes for now as the YPG serves its purposes (http://www.trtworld.com/mea/assads-un-envoy-reveals-regime-support-for-pyd-49189), but certainly not for the day after.

Hence, the position now being implemented by the PYD/YPG in this conflict is crucial both to the future existence of the revolution as a whole, and to the Rojava revolution. Getting it wrong here can mean that all the stories of setting up a radical-democratic, non-sectarian, multi-ethnic, feminist model – and despite exaggerations and romanticisation, a certain amount of this is undoubtedly true – may shortly afterwards turn to dust. What has protected the Rojava revolution for three years, while it was untouched by Assad’s barrel bombs, ballistic missiles, sarin etc, so that this model could be built, was none other than the enormous sacrifice by the rest of the country, the Syrian revolution in Arab Syria, the blood of hundreds of thousands of people outside Rojava, who continually fought and died in the struggle against Assad (and whose similarly revolutionary-democratic councils were bombed into oblivion); they were a wall protecting Rojava, and the moment they fall, Assad, with mathematical precision, will turn Rojava into dust, with no-one left to help (I’m reminded of a poem by Martin Niemoller: http://allpoetry.com/First-They-Came-For-The-Communists). At that point, Assad and Erdogan may find they have less problems with each other than they thought.

The PYD appears to be relying on the idea that its current US and Russian sponsors will save it some autonomy due to their own interests, even if it means Assad, or an ‘Assad regime without Assad’, won’t be able to fully carry out the threat to “unify” the country. Nothing is out of the question. As SDF Co-President İlham Ehmed speaks of Syria being divided into three “federal regions,” with the northern one ruled by them (https://anfenglish.com/features/ehmed-three-federal-regions-will-be-formed-in-syria-part-ii), corresponding closely to the plan recently flagged by the US Rand Corporation (http://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE182.html), John Kerry now says that partition may be part of a ‘Plan B’ if a ceasefire cannot be achieved (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/23/john-kerry-partition-syria-peace-talks?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Gmail). Yet putting the PYD/SDF in charge of a “northern” federal unit outside that extends beyond ethnically Kurdish areas is not the same as Kurdish autonomy, and would instead turn it into a US-Russia-backed police force guarding a brutal occupation of land seen as occupied by the Sunni Arab majority there, not to mention by those millions driven from northern Syria in this gigantic Nakbah. WE are reminded of other dark events in Mideast history. Even then, I suspect this “solution” would be temporary while the post-Assadist state re-gathers its resources.

I have no interest in reaching these conclusions. I always supported the Rojava revolution along with the rest of the revolution, and despite disagreeing with many uncritical supporters of the PYD leadership and its views, I was willing to recognise the relatively politically advanced nature of the process in Rojava. Moreover, regardless of this process, I’ve always supported the right of self-determination for the Kurds throughout the region, including, if they choose, an independent state. But the leadership has made these decisions, and needs to be held accountable.

 

Responsibility of Arab and Kurdish leaderships for Arab-Kurdish disunity

It is true of course that the various opposition leaderships, both political and military, share responsibility, for not having taken a clear position in support of Kurdish national self-determination. The initial refusal of the exile-based Syrian opposition to agree to dropping the word “Arab” from “Syrian Arab Republic” was an important symbolic example. The opposition advocates general rights for Kurds and other minorities, and the Kurdish National Council (KNC) consisting of some 15 parties, is part of the Syrian National Coalition. When it officially joined the Coalition in 2013, a joint declaration was released in which the Coalition confirmed its commitment to “constitutional recognition of the Kurdish people’s national identity, considering the Kurdish affair an integral part of the general national cause in the country, the recognition of the national rights of the Kurdish people in the framework of the unity of the Syrian people and lands, the cancelation of all discriminatory politics, decrees and measures against Kurdish citizens, the treatment of their effects and repercussions, granting the victims compensation and returning rights to their rightful owners.”

Nevertheless, the KNC still fights within the Coalition for a clearer position on the issue. A crystal clear position in support of self-determination (as opposed to the emphasis on “the unity of the Syrian people and lands”), is essential to win national minorities such as the Kurds to the side of revolution. Significantly, however, the Syrian National Coordination Body for Democratic Change, to which the PYD has long been affiliated with, does not have no clearer position on the Kurdish issue than the Syrian National Coalition.

This is a longer-term discussion that needs to be had about the ultimate fate of the revolution. However, supporters of the Syrian revolution have rarely given their support on the basis that its various leaderships are politically advanced; the exile-based leaderships are conservative and bourgeois, and widely criticised by the revolutionaries on the ground; while the internal civil and military leaderships of the FSA and the LCCs etc are empirical revolutionaries who arose from the grass-roots, without strong traditions of political consciousness, crushed as political thought was for 40 years under the Assads. In contrast, the PYD leadership comes from a consciously left-socialist tradition, and one would therefore have expected a better approach than the treacherous one now being implemented.

Moreover, it is not even clear that the Kurdish masses – whatever suspicions they may rightly have about sections of the opposition – are necessarily in support of these current moves, or that their mistrust of the opposition is driving the PYD’s current actions (here is statement of a Kurdish FSA faction condemning the PYD’s actions: http://en.eldorar.com/node/1500). While the Kurds have been nationally oppressed in Syria – especially by the Assad regime – it has been the Sunni Arab majority that has suffered far and away the most over the last five years, subjected to massive slaughter and large-scale dispossession, while the Kurds in Rojava were left alone. In such circumstances, it is just as much the stance of the Kurdish leadership – especially a leftist Kurdish leadership – towards their Arab brothers and sisters that is crucial as is the reverse. Moreover, the position of the PYD leadership in relation to the uprising against Assad was unclear from the outset, and over time evolved into a “plague on both your houses” position, casting themselves as a third alternative, rather than seeing their role as providing a critical left perspective in support of the revolution.

Assad withdrew from the main Kurdish regions in late 2012 and handed them over to the PYD. Of course, Assad did not do this to support Kurdish autonomy, but to be able to focus on slaughtering the more immediate threat of the rest of the revolution; the PYD did not accept because it is pro-Assad, but because it saw the sense of building their own Rojava project rather than demanding to be barrel-bombed. They can hardly be condemned for the latter. However, this situation tended to harden this position of “third-force” neutrality, leading many oppositionists, rightly or wrongly, to see the PYD as a stalking horse for the regime, which often led to, mostly small-scale, clashes (as well as other instances of revolutionary cooperation).

While the PYD claims its Rojava project is multi-ethnic, and in some places this seems to be valid, the momentum of Arab-Kurdish joint demonstrations against the regime throughout 2011-2012 took place independently of the PYD (see this article to get a feel for this period: http://www.developmentperspectives.ie/serdar-ahmad-the-story-of-a-syrian-grassroots-leader/). Some have even argued that the separation of Rojava and its withdrawal from the anti-Assad struggle tended to dull this momentum, ironically enough. I have no information to sustain this view, but it is notable that when the PYD used repression against Kurdish opposition – most famously in Amuda in 2013 (http://www.syriauntold.com/en/2013/07/amuda-shouts-once-again-he-who-kills-his-people-is-a-traitor/) – it was directed against Kurdish activists with strong links to the wider revolutionary movement.

The rise of jihadist forces, first Nusra and then ISIS, led to further conflict, especially as these forces were based mostly in the north and east of the country, and thus tended to vie for some of the same regions, resources and border crossings as the PYD. In late 2013 in particular, they launched murderous attacks on the Kurds in the northeast. While the Syrian opposition did not endorse these jihadist attacks, some small rebel formations on the ground in eastern Syria found themselves stuck between the jihadists and the YPG, where local, conjunctural factors often played a role in deciding who was their chief opponent at the moment’ and in some cases local FSA groups seem to have taken an anti-YPG position. However, the simplistic assertion that “the FSA joined the jihadist attacks on the Kurds” in late 2013 is essentially slander, especially as the FSA was also already at war with ISIS in this period.

Considerable study would be required to ascertain the various errors made by both Arab and Kurdish leaderships. Yet ultimately, it is difficult to see the PYD’s current actions in Aleppo as mere “mistakes” of a revolutionary left leadership under extreme pressure of events, as has been put to me (and amusingly, the same people often tell me how wicked it is for the Syrian rebels to be receiving aid from the Erdogan regime in Turkey – as if it is not the rebels who are the ones under extraordinary, super-human, pressure, and for whom the opening to Turkey, and the little support they get via Azaz, is an absolute lifeline; talk about the pot calling the kettle black!).

 

How did the PYD arrive here?

No, the PYD’s current betrayal is rooted precisely in it not surpassing the bounds of being a nationalist force, despite the rhetoric. In particular, this is combined with the nature of large-scale decision-making in a one-party state, no matter how much power the democratic councils have in local decision-making. For example, the PYD has just banned the Kurdish publication ‘Rudaw’ from operating in Rojava, and “also banned journalists and freelancers from sending their work to Rudaw and warned all agencies and organizations to cut off all contacts with the media network” (http://rudaw.net/english/kurdistan/250220161). Was this act of political repression decided upon by local councils, with relevant information, discussing the issue across Rojava and coming to this decision? Or was it a ruling by some Political Committee of the PYD?

Further, it is my view that the road to becoming a ground force for Russia’s counterrevolutionary Blitzkrieg in Aleppo today was set by the evolution of the PYD/YPG into the main ground force for the US-led Coalition also bombing Syria.

The initial cooperation with the US, when the US airforce came in to bomb ISIS away from Kobani in late 2014, was undoubtedly necessary, when defence against the threat of ISIS subjugation and terror in Kobani was a question of survival. When FSA forces formed an alliance with the YPG for the defence of Kobani, this was also a high point of revolutionary unity between the Arab and Kurdish masses and their leaderships.

However, the US-YPG arrangement then turned into a long-term alliance, and not one for immediate defence as in Kobani, but one for offensive operations against ISIS. Much as the Islamic State is a monstrously reactionary state that needs to be overthrown, it is questionable that this can be achieved via the military actions of a nationalist Kurdish militia on the ground, completely reliant on US air strikes, where the Islamic State is based among Arabs. Since early 2015, every offensive operation by the YPG against ISIS relies on US air-strikes; these US bombings are netting an increasingly higher number of civilian casualties (even this week, the US bombed a bakery and killed 28 civilians in the town of Shadada in Hasaka region, at the onset of a YPG offensive against ISIS: http://www.orient-news.net/en/news_show/103136/0/US-led-coalition-jets-kill-civilians-in-Hasakah-countryside); the YPG is the only ground force sharing coordinates with the US; US special forces have arrived in Rojava and work with the YPG; and even a US airbase has been set up on Rojava soil.

This pattern of dependence on foreign imperialist powers thus emerged, along with a haughtiness, an arrogance, that comes with the idea that you will always be protected by powerful foreign states. This has now reached a tragic climax.

One final point: there is some talk that this move by the PYD is a “pro-Russian” move away from alliance with the US. It isn’t. This view relies too much on the “Cold War” myth, and ignores the “fundamental similarity” of US-Russian views on Syria, as John Kerry rightly put it – especially the studied, deliberate, cold US indifference to the current Russian-led slaughter of the revolutionary forces in Aleppo.

Is it really surprising that the very weeks that the YPG is acting as the Russian ground force in Aleppo, the US and YPG launch a new offensive in Hasaka region; that the SDF includes the logo of the US-led Coalition in their list of allied militias (https://twitter.com/defenseunits/status/700741630618370049); that US Government Counter Terrorism Center, which had linked the PKK and PYD in 2014, removed this reference in 2016 (https://twitter.com/Charles_Lister/status/701451967692845056); and that Brett McGurk, the US envoy to the anti-ISIS Coalition, paid an official visit to the PYD in Kobani “in what appeared to be the first official trip to Syrian territory for several years” by an official from the Obama administration, where he was presented with a plaque by YPG founding member, and former PKK member, Polat Can (http://www.nrttv.com/en/Details.aspx?Jimare=5199). Thus, the counterrevolutionary position currently adopted by the PYD is an embodiment of the US-Russia agreement on Syria, not a problem for their alleged “Cold War.”

Bloody Counterrevolution in Aleppo: on Russian Blitzkrieg and US “betrayal”

Bloody Counterrevolution in Aleppo: on Russian Blitzkrieg and US “betrayal”

Hospital bombed by Russian warplanes

Today we are watching bloody counterrevolution, imperialist barbarism, in its most naked form, most visibly in the combined Blitzkrieg against the people of Aleppo and its northern countryside being carried out by the invading Russian air force, the fascistic regime of Bashar Assad with his barrel bombs, the invading Iranian Revolutionary Guards and their imports including Iraqi Shiite-sectarian death squads, Hezbollah and various manipulated, impoverished Shia troops from Afghanistan and Pakistan, with ISIS to some extent, and the US-backed Kurdish YPG on a huge scale, opportunistically joining in from either side like vultures.

Meanwhile, much the same continues in the south, with people still starving to death, even as world attention has gone away, in the various towns surrounding Damascus that are being carpet-bombed  by Assad and Russia, besieged and starved by Assad and Hezbollah. This scene from some apocalypse (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153676629524823&set=gm.495267943990549&type=3&theatre) is actually between Moadamiyeh and Daraya; this picture of Hiroshima is actually what the regime has done to to the once beautiful city of Homs: https://www.facebook.com/Channel4News/videos/10153492613721939/?pnref=story. Further south, regime and Russian bombing continues day and night against the mighty, and starkly moderate, Southern Front of the FSA, which has had its already miserable level of “support” cut off by Jordan and the US; 150,000 people have been uprooted in the latest offensives.

Returning to Aleppo, the bombing has reached extraordinary levels http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/06/aleppo-under-bombardment-fears-siege-and-starvation?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Gmail:

“The bombs are falling so fast in Aleppo now that often rescuers don’t have time to reach victims between blasts. If the deadly explosions that struck on just one day last week had been evenly spaced, they would have struck every other minute around the clock.

“Sometimes there are so many airstrikes, we are just waiting and waiting at our headquarters, and the jets don’t leave the skies,” says Abdulrahman Alhassan, a 29-year-old former bank engineer from the city who coordinates “white helmet” rescue teams in the city.

“When at last we can’t see any more, we have to rush to all the sites to rescue people and evacuate them at once,” he said. On Friday, the group counted 900 airstrikes by government forces and their Russian backers, apparently throwing every weapon they have at the already devastated city.”

That is, 900 airstrikes on the city in one day.

As is widely reported, the targets include countless hospitals, schools, markets, bakeries, mosques and so on. This video shows the results of the deliberate Russian bombing of the children’s and maternity hospital in Azaz: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/not-terrorists-or-fighters-just-babies-syrian-charity-video-shows-devastation-after-azaz-hospital-a6875496.html, on the same day in mid-February that three other hospitals and two schools were bombed (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/16/world/middleeast/syria-hospital-airstrike-doctors-without-borders.html).

Of course, a bloody counterrevolution being carried out by a fascistic regime does not always involve “imperialist barbarism,” as I put it above; the Syrian regime has been doing the same for years before the Russian invasion. But as far as any foreign intervention by a world-class military power savaging a small country far from home goes, the current Russian invasion and terror bombing of Syria is second to only few.

However, Russian imperialism has been the chief armer of the regime with massive quantities of advanced weaponry for years, so there are no surprises here, and apart from our outrage, perhaps no need to dwell on the obvious (though if an anti-war movement existed in the West, calling for an end to this Russian barbarism would be its obvious aim; but alas).

US policy and the Oslo-style “peace process”

Yet it is the calculated indifference of the United States that stands out here; while this should not be a surprise, it is to those who still think the US was merely a weak and ineffective supporter of Syrian freedom. In fact, US Defence Secretary John Kerry was being completely truthful when he recently stated, not only that that the US does not support regime change in Syria (old news), but also that the US and Russia see the Syrian conflict “fundamentally very similarly” (http://abcnews.go.com/International/john-kerry-meets-russian-president-vladimir-putin-seek/story?id=35782171).

It may seem ironic that the current Russian Blitzkrieg is taking place in the shadow of the US-Russian driven Vienna/Geneva “peace process.” This process supposedly aimed to forge a ceasefire, and press a select group of oppositionists into a “transitional” government with the regime or parts of it, who would then jointly wage a war, supported by all the imperialist powers, against ISIS, Nusra and any other opposition forces declared to be “terrorists.”

However, while accepting negotiations for some kind of “political solution,” the Syrian opposition had some red lines. One was that, before real negotiations could begin, the regime needed to show some good faith by first implementing UN resolutions on lifting starvation sieges, stopping barrel bombing, releasing detainees and so on. Secondly, while the opposition was willing to begin negotiations with Assad, their bottom line for eventually agreeing to any political solution was that, at some point, Assad himself and his immediate entourage had to step down, so that the “transition” government they were to join would be formed with parts of the regime but not Assad himself.

However, the US, the UK, France and other western states began falling over each other to declare that Assad’s alleged “stepping down” can take place at the “end” of the “transition government” period rather than at the beginning; and then the length of this Assad-led “transition” kept getting lengthened beyond the “several months” initially discussed. This was made even more emphatic in an internal US State Department document which specified that Assad would continue to head the “transitional” regime, which the opposition was expected to join, until March 2017 (http://news.yahoo.com/apnewsbreak-us-sees-assad-staying-syria-until-march-081207181–politics.html); and then further, the US delivered new Russian-Iranian diktats to the opposition, moving from the concept of “transition” to that of the opposition forming a “national unity government” with Assad, while strongly rejecting the opposition’s conditions regarding sieges and so on.

According to Lina Sinjab, writing from the Geneva talks, a “US official was adamant that Secretary of State John Kerry wants to end the violence, and is determined to succeed. But everyone here thinks the opposite. Almost at every corner, you hear the same thought: The US has handed over Syria to the Russians for free” (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35490273). And as Assadist/Russian bombing continually increased throughout the “peace” conference, Kerry claimed on February 5 that “the Russians have made some constructive ideas about how a ceasefire in fact could be implemented” (http://www.todayszaman.com/world_kerry-says-in-talks-on-syria-ceasefire-will-know-in-days-if-possible_411600.html).

As  reported on February 6, Syrian aid workers said Kerry told them on sidelines of the donor conference, after the Geneva “peace” talks broke down, that “the opposition will be decimated” and to expect 3 months of bombing, blaming the opposition for the Russian Blitzkrieg: “He said, ‘Don’t blame me – go and blame your opposition’” (http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/opposition-blame-syrian-bombing-kerry-tells-aid-workers-1808021537). Another source in the same article, who claimed to have been a liaison between the Syrian and American governments, said Kerry had passed the message on to Assad in October “that the US did not want him to be removed,” but that if he stopped barrel bombing, could “sell the story” to the public.

As Russia then launched into the current apocalyptic bombing of Aleppo, Kerry and Lavrov stitched together a “ceasefire,” which, however, would begin after a week, allowing plenty of time for Russia’s hundreds of strikes a day to perform maximum devastation in the meantime, while excluding all operations against ISIS, Nusra and “other terrorists” from the ceasefire. Since Russia and Assad declare everyone they bomb to be either ISIS, Nusra or “terrorists,” this ceasefire was simply a cover for the genocide to continue, while outlawing the rebels from shooting back!

When Kerry announced the “ceasefire” alongside his Russian counterpart, he put all the blame on the Syrian opposition, and as usual praised his (new) allies to the skies, stating emphatically that “it was not Russia or Iran who stopped a ceasefire from being adopted at the very beginning. I want to make that very, very clear” (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/12/russia-big-winner-syria-flawed-truce-assad-europe-us?CMP=share_btn_tw).

Then as Russia and Assad responded to the “ceasefire” by stepping up their genocidal bombing of Aleppo, Kerry said this has to stop, but told the opposition to stop “whining” about it, telling them it won’t stop “by walking away from the table or not engaging” (https://twitter.com/USEmbassySyria/status/696046559486607360).

It may be objected that these are just statements, perhaps driven by diplomacy. However, statements have a context. In the context of such horrific crimes being committed by Russia as we speak; of the US pressuring its “allies” to cut off the miserable aid they had provided the rebels (see below); of the US pushing the opposition into a national unity government with Assad for one and a half years; in the context of US bombing never touching the regime or its death squad allies, but often hitting non-ISIS rebel targets; these “mere statements” represent policy, not diplomacy.

US “betrayal”?

Below I have attached what is one of the better commentaries in mainstream media in recent weeks on the so-called US “betrayal” of the Syrian people in the face of this bloodthirsty Russian-Assadist-Iranian Blitzkrieg on Aleppo.

Of course, its use of words like “betrayal,” and the idea that the US is “handing” Syria over to Russia and Iran (clearly the US is handing it to Assad) still reveal a hint of the grand illusion that perhaps “real” US interests would have been to act differently, or that the open US-Russia ad US-Iran collaboration in Syria somehow represents the US abandoning its own interests in favour of those of others.

Actually, the author only just still borders on these illusions – like any serious observer, the author can see that the facts have long ago depleted most illusions. The author writes for example “Washington seems oblivious to the simple truth that diplomacy has a cost, as does its failure — probably because this cost would be carried by the rebellion, for which the United States has little respect or care anyway.” He is right that the US has “little respect or care” (“none” would be more correct) for the rebellion, but this very fact makes the word “oblivious” at the beginning of the sentence meaningless. This author can at least be congratulated on showing 90 percent cynicism of basic US motives and positions on Syria throughout the conflict, and only 10 percent remaining illusions of the US being “oblivious” to its interests. Far ahead of most.

It is high time, in my opinion, to call a spade a spade. This has nothing to do with the fact that there has been no “US intervention,” still less a call for it. In fact, those constantly warning against “US intervention” wilfully ignore that the US has been bombing Syria for some 17 months, just that it bombs Anyone But Assad (see my article on who the US bombs: . https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2015/09/03/who-has-the-us-bombed-for-in-syria/).

At this point, it doesn’t even have that much to do with the many years of very active US intervention against the revolution, to ensure that no Syrian rebels, not even the most “moderate”, could get their hands on any anti-aircraft weapons, the major defensive need of the rebels since mid-2012 when massive airpower became the main form of regime aggression; with the fact that sympathetic regional states were blocked from sending them, and that the FSA was even blocked when it tried to get them from the black market. No, this is all well-established; as one tweet put it concisely, “the only consistent, thorough, well-implemented US Syrian policy is tracking hunting and stopping MANPADS from reaching any opposition group since 2012” (https://twitter.com/THE_47th/status/659114328012931072); and the criminality of denying such weapons as the rebels face such apocalyptic bombing right now is for all to see. But it is even more than that.

All the reports from recent weeks, if not months, tell of the US winding down, if not cutting off, the already pathetic level of “support” to some “vetted” rebels (or, put more correctly, of the US forcing Saudis, Qatar and Turkey to wind down or cut off their support). As the author notes in the article below: “In the south, the United States has demanded a decrease in weapons deliveries to the Southern Front, while in the north, the Turkey-based operations room is reportedly dormant.” According to Syrian National Coalition Khaled Khoja, external support for armed opposition factions in Syria came to a complete halt following the Vienna talks in October 2015 (http://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/indepth/2016/2/6/the-fate-of-the-syrian-opposition-left-without-support), while videographic evidence shows that use of Saudi-supplied TOW anti-tank weapons on the battlefield “had trickled off in the last months of 2015 and totally vanished in the first two weeks of 2016” (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/02/05/are-u-s-missiles-taking-out-high-ranking-russian-military-officials.html).

So let’s call the spade by its name: the US is opposed to, and has always been opposed to, the Syrian revolution. Period. Things have worked out this way not because the US was “weak,” or “incoherent,” or endlessly (for 5 years) makes “mistakes,” or “bungled it,” or unwittingly “handed over victory” to someone opposed to US interests etc; no, things turned out this way, have been this way for five years, because it is US policy.

 

One final comment: The author says it is “ironic” that this international Blitzkrieg against Free Syria is occurring at the moment the US and UN have been organising the Oslo-style Geneva “peace process”. Here I’ll allow a little conspiratorial thinking currently prevalent among many Syrians, who have more right to be cynical than anyone. That the Geneva farce – such an obvious farce – was organised as a cover to politically disarm and distract and try to divide the Syrian rebellion while the “final military solution” was being planned all along.

 

 

Obama’s Disastrous Betrayal of the Syrian Rebels

How the White House is handing victory to Bashar al-Assad, Russia and Iran.​

​BY EMILE HOKAYEM

​FEBRUARY 5, 2016​

https://foreignpolicy.com/2016/02/05/obamas-disastrous-betrayal-of-the-syrian-rebels/

What a difference a year makes in Syria. And the introduction of massive Russian airpower.

Last February, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its Shiite auxiliaries mounted a large-scale attempt to encircle Aleppo, the northern city divided between regime and rebels since 2012 and battered by the dictator’s barrel bombs. Islamist and non-Islamist mainstream rebels — to the surprise of those who have derided their performance, let alone their existence — repelled the offensive at the time. What followed was a string of rebel advances across the country, which weakened Assad so much that they triggered Moscow’s direct intervention in September, in concert with an Iranian surge of forces, to secure his survival.

Fast-forward a year. After a slow start — and despite wishful Western assessments that Moscow could not sustain a meaningful military effort abroad — the Russian campaign is finally delivering results for the Assad regime. This week, Russian airpower allowed Assad and his allied paramilitary forces to finally cut off the narrow, rebel-held “Azaz corridor” that links the Turkish border to the city of Aleppo. The city’s full encirclement is now a distinct possibility, with regime troops and Shiite fighters moving from the south, the west, and the north. Should the rebel-held parts of the city ultimately fall, it will be a dramatic victory for Assad and the greatest setback to the rebellion since the start of the uprising in 2011.

In parallel, Russia has put Syria’s neighbors on notice of the new rules of the game. Jordan was spooked into downgrading its help for the Southern Front, the main non-Islamist alliance in the south of the country, which has so far prevented extremist presence along its border. Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian military aircraft that crossed its airspace in November backfired: Moscow vengefully directed its firepower on Turkey’s rebel friends across Idlib and Aleppo provinces. Moscow also courted Syria’s Kurds, who found a new partner to play off the United States in their complex relations with Washington. And Russia has agreed to a temporary accommodation of Israel’s interests in southern Syria.

Inside Syria, and despite the polite wishes of Secretary of State John Kerry, the overwhelming majority of Russian strikes have hit non-Islamic State (IS) fighters. Indeed, Moscow and the Syrian regime are content to see the United States bear the lion’s share of the effort against the jihadi monster in the east, instead concentrating on mowing through the mainstream rebellion in western Syria. Their ultimate objective is to force the world to make an unconscionable choice between Assad and IS.

The regime is everywhere on the march. Early on, the rebels mounted a vigorous resistance, but the much-touted increase in anti-tank weaponry could only delay their losses as their weapons storages, command posts and fall-back positions were being pounded. Around Damascus, the unrelenting Russian pounding has bloodied rebel-held neighborhoods; in December, the strikes killed Zahran Alloush, the commander of the main Islamist militia there. In the south, Russia has fully backed the regime’s offensive in the region of Daraa, possibly debilitating the Southern Front. Rebel groups in Hama and Homs provinces have faced a vicious pounding that has largely neutralized them. Further north, a combination of Assad troops, Iranian Shiite militias, and Russian firepower dislodged the powerful Islamist rebel coalition Jaish Al-Fatah from Latakia province.

But it is the gains around Aleppo that represent the direst threat to the rebellion. One perverse consequence of cutting the Azaz corridor is that it plays into the hands of the al Qaeda-affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra, since weapons supplies from Turkey would have to go through Idlib, where the jihadist movement is powerful. Idlib may well become the regime’s next target. The now-plausible rebel collapse in the Aleppo region could also send thousands of fighters dejected by their apparent abandonment into the arms of Nusra or IS.

The encirclement of Aleppo would also create a humanitarian disaster of such magnitude that it would eclipse the horrific sieges of Madaya and other stricken regions that have received the world’s (short-lived) attention. Tens of thousands of Aleppo residents are already fleeing toward Kilis, the Turkish town that sits across the border from Azaz. The humanitarian crisis, lest anyone still had any doubt, is a deliberate regime and Russian strategy to clear important areas of problematic residents — while paralyzing rebels, neighboring countries, Western states, and the United Nations.

Assad all along pursued a strategy of gradual escalation and desensitization that, sadly, worked well. Syrians already compare the international outcry and response to the IS’ siege of Kobane in 2014 to the world’s indifference to the current tragedy.

To complicate the situation even more, the regime’s advances could allow the Kurdish-dominated, American-favored Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to conquer the area currently held by the Free Syrian Army and Islamist militias between the Turkish border and the new regime front line north of the Shiite towns of Nubl and Zahra. This would pit the SDF against IS on two fronts: from the west, if the Kurds of Afrin canton seize Tal Rifaat, Azaz and surrounding areas, and from the east, where the YPG is toying with the idea of crossing the Euphrates River. An IS defeat there would seal the border with Turkey, meeting an important American objective.

The prospect of further Kurdish expansion has already alarmed Turkey. Over the summer, Ankara was hoping to establish a safe zone in this very area. It pressured Jabhat al-Nusra to withdraw and anointed its allies in Syria, including the prominent Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham, as its enforcers. True to its record of calculated dithering, President Barack Obama’s administration let the Turkish proposal hang until it could no longer be implemented. Turkey faces now an agonizing dilemma: watch and do nothing as a storm gathers on its border, or mount a direct intervention into Syria that would inevitably inflame its own Kurdish problem and pit it against both IS and an array of Assad-allied forces, including Russia.

​Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the rebellion’s main supporters, are now bereft of options. No amount of weaponry is likely to change the balance of power. The introduction of anti-aircraft missiles was once a viable response against Assad’s air force, but neither country — suspecting that the United States is essentially quiescent to Moscow’s approach — is willing to escalate against President Vladimir Putin without cover.

Ironically, this momentous change in battlefield dynamics is occurring just as U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura yet again pushes a diplomatic track in Geneva. But the developments on the ground threaten to derail the dapper diplomat’s peace scheme. Fairly or not, de Mistura is tainted by the fact that the United Nations is discredited in the eyes of many Syrians for theproblematic entanglements of its Damascus humanitarian arm with the regime. Despite U.N. resolutions, international assistance still does not reach those who need it most; in fact, aid has become yet another instrument of Assad’s warfare. Neither Kerry nor de Mistura are willing to seriously pressure Russia and Assad for fear of jeopardizing the stillborn Geneva talks.

Seemingly unfazed by this controversy, de Mistura’s top-down approach relies this time on an apparent U.S.-Russian convergence. At the heart of this exercise is Washington’s ever-lasting hope that Russian frustration with Assad would somehow translate into a willingness to push him out. However, whether Putin likes his Syrian counterpart has always been immaterial. The Russian president certainly has reservations about Assad, but judging by the conduct of his forces in Chechnya and now in Syria, these are about performance– not humanitarian principles or Assad’s legitimacy. For the time being, Moscow understands that without Assad, there is no regime in Damascus that can legitimize its intervention.

Ever since 2011, the United States has hidden behind the hope of a Russian shift and closed its eyes to Putin’s mischief to avoid the hard choices on Syria. When the Russian onslaught started, U.S. officials like Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken predicted a quagmire to justify Washington’s passivity. If Russia’s intervention was doomed to failure, after all, the United States was not on the hook to act.

Russia, however, has been not only been able to increase the tempo of its military operations, but also to justify the mounting cost. And contrary to some pundits, who hailed the Russian intervention as the best chance to check the expansion of IS, Washington knows all too well that the result of the Russian campaign is the strengthening of the jihadist group in central Syria in the short term. This is a price Washington seems willing to pay for the sake of keeping the Geneva process alive.

The bankruptcy of U.S. policy goes deeper. The United States has alreadyconceded key points about Assad’s future — concessions that Russia and the regime have been quick to pocket, while giving nothing in return. In the lead-up to and during the first days of the Geneva talks, it became clear that the United States is putting a lot more pressure on the opposition than it does on Russia, let alone Assad. Just as Russia escalates politically and militarily, the Obama administration is cynically de-escalating, and asking its allies to do so as well. This is weakening rebel groups that rely on supply networks that the U.S. oversees: In the south, the United States has demanded a decrease in weapons deliveries to the Southern Front, while in the north, the Turkey-based operations room is reportedly dormant.

The result is a widespread and understandable feeling of betrayal in the rebellion, whose U.S.-friendly elements are increasingly losing face within opposition circles. This could have the ironic effect of fragmenting the rebellion — after years of Western governments bemoaning the divisions between these very same groups.

It’s understandable for the United States to bank on a political process and urge the Syrian opposition to join this dialogue in good faith. But to do so while exposing the rebellion to the joint Assad-Russia-Iran onslaught and without contingency planning is simply nefarious. Washington seems oblivious to the simple truth that diplomacy has a cost, as does its failure — probably because this cost would carried by the rebellion, for which the United States has little respect or care anyway, and would be inherited by Obama’s successor.

The conditions are in place for a disastrous collapse of the Geneva talks — now delayed until late February — and a painful, bloody year in Syria. All actors understand that Obama, who has resisted any serious engagement in the country, is unlikely to change course now. And they all assume, probably rightly, that he is more interested in the appearance of a process than in spending any political capital over it. As a result, all the parties with a stake in Syria’s future are eyeing 2017, trying to position themselves for the new White House occupant. This guarantees brinksmanship, escalation, and more misery. 2016 is shaping up as the year during which Assad will lock in significant political and military gains.​

Compilation of Recent Russian Crimes Against Humanity in Syria

by Michael Karadjis

Below is a compilation of Russian crimes against humanity in Syria, in early 2016 alone. The last few months of 2015 would show an equally horrific, and longer, toll. As I write, the United Nations has finally postponed its bogus Syria “peace” talks, even they finally recognising that holding a talk fest, while the state-terrorist group currently occupying Damascus, and its invading Russian backer, dramatically step up their already prolific level of mass murder, is not going to achieve anything.

In response to Russia bombing the last hospital in Free Aleppo, my friend and fellow supporter of the Syrian people, Sam Charles Hamad, wrote on his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/sam.c.hamad/posts/1108767129156898:

“They are quite concretely attempting to destroy the nascent inner workings of Free Syria. Destroying the very functionality of liberty. Russia has been able to do it with brutal precision. The last major hospital in North Aleppo has been destroyed by the Russian air force. Filthy cowards. May they all die horribly.”

Very appropriate words. But of course, despite our justified anger, the cowards won’t all die horribly, just yet, not with the advantage of all that advanced mass-murder equipment they employ safely from the skies. Some will, of course: the ground troops, the cannon fodder. That is, what is today still called, farcically, the Syrian “Arab” Army: the army of Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah traitors, Iraqi Shiite death squads, and countless dirt-poor Afghan Hazara and even Pakistani Shia, sent to Syria by the Iranian hang-man regime either by force, manipulation or lies.

Perhaps one reason why Israel has continually declared itself so happy about its alliance with Russia since Russia took the lead role in defending the Assad family’s power away from Iran, is that it kills two birds with the one stone: on the one hand, Israel’s asset in Damascus is defended just as well if not better, by a pro-Israeli ruler like Putin rather than someone who feels compelled to issue a lot of anti-Israel noise like Khameini; on the other, just in case some of these Khameini rabble, particularly a few Hezbollahis, were ever inclined to take the anti-Zionist rhetoric seriously, then using them as cannon-fodder keeps them busy, and buries plenty of them at the same time as they bury Syrian rebels and civilians. As they choose to be cannon-fodder for a gigantic Zionist-style Nakbah in Syria, they won’t be mourned.

But the Assadist and Russian cowards in the skies remain untouched. For now. But the struggle continues. For months and months of Russian carpet bombing, very little was achieved militarily, even as thousands of civilians were slaughtered. But ultimately, the superiority of Russian warplanes will wear down the resistance; and possibly now we may see a victory of Assadist/Russian air power over the people of northern Aleppo. We’ll see.

But even if so, this blood-drenched occupation will confront perhaps years of ongoing guerrilla struggle, during which many of these cowards will be picked off one by one, or blown to bits. The Assad family dynasty may think they can finish this via employing an invasion by the Russian superpower (I don’t really care whether one calls Russia “imperialist” or not in the circumstances; theoreticians may discuss that, but for now, the second major military power on Earth has been savaging a small country for months and months without a peep from those opposed to … “foreign intervention”). But if they think that, they will be entertaining the same illusions that the new Zionist state had in 1948; that it’s all over. Still isn’t.

Meanwhile, anyone on the left still putting up squeamish liberal arguments against the right of the Syrian rebels to receive *massive* quantities of *the best* anti-aircraft weapons (because manpads, which the US has meticulously blocked for years, would only be useful against the lower and slower flying Syrian helicopters barrel bombing the country to pieces for years, but not against this highly advanced Russian mass-murder equipment), from *anywhere* they can get them, *right now*, is a direct participant in this massive new Nakbah.

With no means of defending themselves and their communities against this gigantic aerial massacre, the one and only Russian killer-plane shot down was hit by Turkey a couple of months ago; regardless of Erdogan’s own crimes inside Turkey, I was amazed that when I wrote that the downing of this Russian plane was “one small victory for humanity” (https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2015/12/03/turkey-russia-spat-one-standard-for-murdered-syrian-children-another-for-the-warplanes-that-kill-them/), some leftists actually had the gall to condemn this stand. On the other hand, I was most pleased to see ‘Red Flag’, the newspaper of Australia’s Socialist Alternative, take a stand worthy of the left by publishing my article under the heading ‘One Small Victory for Humanity’ (https://www.facebook.com/thomas.tomtom1/posts/10153755391629250). Let there be many more.

Below I have put together a compilation of Russian war crimes from early 2016 alone as a ready reference for anyone remaining confused on this issue (the article on the downing of the Russian plan, just linked to above, begins with a summary of Russian war crimes in 2015, to add to this list).

 

Summaries of Russian war crimes

The Killing of 1382 Civilians in January 2016, of whom 679 were killed by Russian Forces: http://sn4hr.org/wp-content/pdf/english/1382_civilians_were_killed_in_January_2016_en.pdf

Russian airstrikes have claimed the lives of 1,815 civilians in Syria’s opposition-held areas since September, according to new Syrian Civil Defense Authority statistics:  http://aa.com.tr/en/world/russian-airstrikes-killed-1-800-civilians-in-syria-/511194

 

Russian Drone Footage of their own bombing among the Apocalypse: Just look at this!

Drone view on battle in dead city Daraya, near Damascus:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJl364ovmL8&feature=youtu.be

 

Syrian Children’s Stories

Russia Is Bombing Syria’s Children: These Are Their Stories

Moscow claims its airstrikes target ISIS in Syria, but the reality on the ground is that hundreds of children, rebels, aid workers, and civilians have been killed. BuzzFeed News’ Borzou Daragahi talks to victims of Russia’s campaign.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/borzoudaragahi/russia-is-bombing-syrias-children-these-are-their-stories#.alBBY4XW7

 

Where Russia is Bombing: Look at the two maps if you think Russia is “bombing ISIS”

It can be so difficult for those Russian bombers to remember where ISIS is

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1290887497603581&set=a.346517005373973.103161.100000470298957&type=3&theater

 

Large-scale crimes

 Russia Bombed 25 Schools since Start of Its Aggression Last September:  http://en.etilaf.org/all-news/local-news/syrian-interim-government-russia-bombed-25-schools-since-start-of-its-aggression-last-september.html

War surgeon reveals how healthcare workers are being systematically targeted in Syria: “Nearly nobody is reporting this, the direct attacks on healthcare and healthcare workers,” he told The Independent last month, citing figures from the NGO Physicians for Human Rights, which recorded 23 attacks on medical facilities in Syria in October and November last year – all but one by Syrian government or Russian forces: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/david-nott-interview-war-surgeon-reveals-how-healthcare-workers-are-being-targeted-in-syria-a6831646.html

Last major north Aleppo hospital destroyed by Russian airstrike: http://syriadirect.org/news/first-responder-last-major-north-aleppo-hospital-destroyed-by-russian-airstrike/

Russia strikes displace over150 000 in Daraa: rebel media: https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/NewsReports/566560-russia-strikes-displace-over-150000-in-daraa-rebel-media

118 Victims death toll of massacres by Russia and the Assad regime on Wednesday: http://en.eldorar.com/node/1328

Russian Forces killed 99 civilians in 72 hours in Ma’art Al No’man City in Idlib: http://sn4hr.org/blog/2016/01/25/16832/

142 Killed on Friday Amid Russian and US Airstrikes: http://eaworldview.com/2016/01/syria-feature-scores-killed-in-russian-and-us-airstrikes-on-friday/

Russian warplanes conducted several air raids on the town of Al-Bulayl in rural DeirEzzor today, killing at least 12 innocent civilians, including children, and wounding a number of others. Moreover, a number of civilian homes were completely destroyed in the deadly air raids during which cluster bombs were used: http://en.deirezzor24.net/russian-warplanes-perpetrate-a-horrible-massacre-in-al-bulayl-in-rural-deir-ezzor-in-response-to-recent-isis-advance-in-the-region/

Russian warplanes carry out two massacres within 24 hours in rural Deir Ezzor claiming the lives of more than 35 civilians: http://en.deirezzor24.net/russian-warplanes-carry-out-two-massacres-within-24-hours-in-rural-deir-ezzor-claiming-the-lives-of-more-than-35-civilians-2/

Massacre in Raqqa Russian airstrikes slaughtered 42 civilians (from Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently): https://twitter.com/Raqqa_SL/status/688473567638323200

More from Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently: Russian warplanes kill more than 100 civilians in 3 days in Raqqa, with hundreds injured, “their names are documented”: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CZuA_JKXEAEdMvx.png

The outcome of the martyrs of Raqqa yesterday, 46 martyrs all of them civilians. And air strikes from coalition and Russia: https://twitter.com/PalmyraPioneer/status/688719285066293249

The Toll of Russian Air Strikes on Kafr Nboudha: http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/syriasource/the-toll-of-russian-airstrikes-on-kafr-nboudha

Russia Damages Mosque Kills 10 Worshipers: http://eaworldview.com/2016/01/syria-feature-report-russia-damages-mosque-kills-worshippers/

Eight children dead after Russia strike hits Syrian school: monitor: http://www.rte.ie/news/2016/0111/759164-syria-russia-strike/

There has been another mass killing by Russian airstrikes in northwest Syria, with more than 40 people dead and 170 wounded after an attack on the town of Maarat al-Num’an in Idlib Province on Saturday:  http://eaworldview.com/2016/01/syria-daily-another-mass-killing-from-russian-airstrikes/

Russian Bombing Closes Schools for 1000s in Homs and Latakia Provinces: http://eaworldview.com/2015/12/syria-daily-opposition-rebel-bloc-prepares-for-talks-but-assad-must-go/

Russian bombs damage British funded bakery designed to help 18000 Syrians: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/12125968/Russian-bombs-damage-British-funded-bakery-designed-to-help-18000-Syrians.html

Deir Ezzor province is bleeding from Russian airstrikes while the international community keeps watching: http://en.deirezzor24.net/deir-ezzor-province-is-bleeding-from-russian-airstrikes-while-the-international-community-keeps-watching/

Russian planes continue to kill civilians in DeirEzzor province: http://en.deirezzor24.net/russian-planes-continue-to-kill-…/ …

In Homs Russian Strikes on Turkmen Village Kill Seven Women and Children: http://www.syrianobserver.com/EN/News/30490/In_Homs_Russian_Strikes_Turkmen_Village_Kill_Seven_Women_Children

 

Tweets and videos of grisly slaughter over last couple of days

More than 70 Russian air strikes launched on villages in northern Aleppo this morning. https://twitter.com/RamiSafadi93/status/694817922636709888

5 Russian air raids kill 7 including 2 children in Burj Qai: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87TxxZTs9Po …

“I hope you die Bashar” cries this girl after been hit with Russian airstrikes-Kafr Hamra, Aleppo: https://twitter.com/IHWCo/status/694404291788820480

The public information office of the city Haritan || Witness during the work of the civil defence team out of the martyrs from under the rubble: https://youtu.be/wN2CxBrBWO4

More than 50 people were killed by Russian air strikes across rebel held northern Aleppo today:  https://twitter.com/RamiSafadi93/status/694548174904647680

6 martyrs, 30+ wounded victims of ‪#‎Russia airstrikes on Anadan:  https://t.co/h0dCsCO3oy

Child victim of Russian airstrikes on Haryatan:  https://t.co/nwODee3RuU

Little girl trying to survive under rubble, victim of Russia on Haryatan: https://twitter.com/AEJKhalil/status/694511390560747520

Aleppo : victims of #Russia airstrikes targeting their homes in #Qabr_alEnglizi area: https://twitter.com/AEJKhalil/status/694891992459816961

Russia warplanes carried out airstrikes w/Clusters Bombs targeting a popular market of Anadan:  https://twitter.com/AEJKhalil/status/694885304616898561

Thousands of residents flee northern #Aleppo towards #Turkey border under nonstop #Russia’n airstrikes:  https://twitter.com/markito0171/status/694879910800789509

The Russian airforce dropped cluster bombs on Palmyra, killing 10 civilians, including 4 women:  https://twitter.com/PalmyraPioneer/status/694975984399970304

Latakia: SAA/ RUSSIA bombed #Aubin IDP Camp again earlier this afternoon: https://twitter.com/AEJKhalil/status/694991410655793152

 

And who Russia wanted to invite to Geneva as the Syrian “opposition”

One version of Russia’s 15-member “opposition” list. Includes people who assembled in Cairo late last year under auspices of Assad’s ally and fellow blood-thirsty tyrant al-Sisi.

  • 4 members of the Kurdish PYD (OK, regardless of what one may think of the PYD, especially now as it praises the genocidal Russian bombing of Syria, the YPG obviously does represent a force that needs to be represented in any talks, though whether it can be defined as “opposition” is another question; the rest below, however, would appear to represent exactly nobody but themselves)
  • 2 members of the Qamh movement (pro-Assad “authorized opposition,” including the Haytham Manna, who recently praised Assadist death-squad Hezbollah and told them that the Syrian rebels were “terrorists”)
  • 2 members of the “loyal opposition” PCLF (the Moscow-based former Assad regime deputy PM Qadri Jamil and Mazeb Maghribiya )
  • 1 member of the Peaceful Change Path Movement (pro-Russia “authorized opposition”
  • Randa Kassis, Paris-based Pro-Russia leader and probably only member of the Movement for a Pluralistic Society
  • Abbas Habib, general coordinator of the pro-Assad Council of Syrian Tribes’ leadership
  • Samir Aita, the Arabic editor of Le Monde Diplomatique
  • Rim Turkmani, a Syrian-born astrophysicist at Imperial College London
  • 2 unknown guys

From Arun Lund, https://twitter.com/aronlund/status/689448973753430017, descriptions courtesy of Paola Pisi from Revolutionary Syria FB site.

US and Jordan demand Southern Front rebels stop fighting Assad, cut off “support”

By Michael Karadjis

According to two articles attached below this post, a number of changes have been taking place in southern Syria, where the Southern Front (SF) of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) holds sway over much of Daraa and Quneitra provinces, and shares a border with Jordan, through which the US, Saudi Arabia and Jordan itself attempt to exercise sway over the situation.

The first article (https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/NewsReports/566514-daraa-rebels-ordered-to-stop-fighting-syria-regime-report) claims that the Military Operations Room (MOC) in Amman, Jordan, through which these countries have contact with the SF, has ordered the SF to stop fighting the regime, and even to avoid the more patchy conflicts with ISIS (merely because ISIS has so little presence in the south), and instead to make war against Jabhat al-Nusra. The second article (http://www.mei.edu/content/article/has-jordan-acquiesced-assad-regime-offensive-southern-syria) describes how the Kingdom of Jordan, where the MOC is based, is coordinating with both the US and Russia, and has essentially acquiesced with the Assad regime’s current Russian-backed offensive to re-take the south; and that the US has cut off its already miserable “support” to the SF, a claim in accord with many other sources of late.

Who is the Southern Front

As is widely known by those seriously following Syria, the Southern Front (SF) of the FSA is perhaps the most clearly secular/anti-sectarian part of the anti-Assad resistance in the country. Its founding statement, in February 2014, declared:

“We are the farmers, the teachers, and the workers that you see every day. Many of us were among the soldiers who defected from a corrupt regime that had turned its weapons around to fight its own countrymen. We represent many classes but our goal is one: to topple the Assad regime and give Syria a chance at a better future. There is no room for sectarianism and extremism in our society, and they will find no room in Syria’s future. The Syrian people deserve the freedom to express their opinions and to work toward a better future. We are striving to create in Syria a government that represents the people and works for their interest. We are the Southern Front” (https://www.zamanalwsl.net/news/46545.html).

Moreover, while its similarly secular/non-sectarian FSA allies throughout northern Syria are far more significant than western media, and its leftist echo, make them out to be (an excellent summary of FSA strength in Syria can be seen here: http://blogs.new.spectator.co.uk/2015/11/yes-there-are-70000-moderate-opposition-fighters-in-syria-heres-what-we-know-about-them/), they nevertheless have to share their space with a variety of softer or harder line Islamist factions, whereas in the south the SF is more or less absolutely dominant within most opposition-controlled regions. Consisting of some 54 FSA brigades, it reportedly contains some 35,000 troops in battle against the Assad regime (http://rfsmediaoffice.com/en/free-syrian-army-factions-of-the-southern-front-unite-their-forces-against-the-regime-and-extremists/, http://rfsmediaoffice.com/en/the-free-syrian-army-southern-front-transitional-phase/).

“Support” full of strings and red lines

In order to try to control the SF’s movements and attempt to co-opt it in future, the US and Saudi Arabia have sent a certain amount of aid to the SF via the MOC in Jordan (more specifically, Saudi Arabia has often tried to send more, and the US has tended to restrict this as much as possible even at the best of times). Most of this “support” is nothing to write home about, especially when compared with the need, in confronting the massive arsenal of advanced killing equipment used by the Assad regime and continually re-supplied in enormous quantities by Russia and Iran, not to mention the actual Russian airforce and thousands of Iranian and allied troops.

However, it is the political purpose of such “support” that is the issue here; and this tends to become apparent whenever the SF starts winning.

After the SF made a string of victories in the south in early 2015, taking the last Jordanian border crossing at Nasib, the Sheik Miskeen and Nawa regions, the historic town of Bushra al-Sham and the decisive regime base 52 (corresponding to a similar string of victories by the rebels in the north in Idlib and Hama), the US and MOC imposed a series of “red lines” on the SF, where the SF was not to go. These reportedly included the central al-Mahata area of Daraa city (the regime-controlled capital of Daraa province, which is largely controlled by the SF), the neighbouring Druze-majority province Suweida, anywhere north towards the key city of Sasa, and any attempt to link up with the rebel-held outer suburbs of Damascus or to advance on Damascus itself (http://eaworldview.com/2015/08/syria-daily-regime-carries-out-another-mass-killing-in-douma/#daraa).

SF offensives to take Daraa city, and also the Thala airbase on the Suweida border, were unsupported, or even blocked, by the MOC (http://syria4rev.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/why-is-operation-southern-storm-failing.html, https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/commentary/565651-the-southern-front-allies-without-a-strategy, http://eaworldview.com/2015/06/syria-feature-joint-operations-room-in-jordan-halted-rebel-assault-on-key-regime-airbase/). According to some reports, any violation of the “red line” against advancing towards Damascus would be met by US air strikes.

The US interest: Turn the FSA into Sawha

In other words, as elsewhere, the US did not want the regime to totally crush the SF, as this would leave the Sunni populations no alternative but to gravitate to the more Islamist or even jihadist militias; and also because the US hoped to use a weakened, and thus more dependent, SF in future as part of a ‘Sawha’ operation that would make peace with the regime and merely fight ISIS, or Nusra, or both, or even other Islamists; however, it also certainly did not want the SF to advance and threaten victory over Assad.

As we have seen with US attempts to turn some FSA-connected fighters into Sawha, there is never any success; the $500 million attempt to train and equip fighters to fight ISIS only, and give up the fight against Assad, netted about 100 fighters, who collapsed in a heap as soon as they entered Syria last year. This is because the whole point of the FSA’s existence is to overthrow the fascist regime.

Not that the FSA had any problem fighting ISIS; the FSA declared war on ISIS (and vice versa) in July 2013, and from January 2014 led other rebels in launching a nationwide coordinated attack on ISIS that drove it from the whole of western Syria, the most massive defeat for ISIS anywhere in Syria by anyone. But this was on their own initiative; they certainly never dropped the war on the regime, on the contrary the FSA recognised that the Assad regime and ISIS not only tended to collaborate with each other, but moreover were both enemies that needed to be defeated.

On the other hand, while the FSA has continually clashed with Nusra, this has mostly taken a defensive form; Nusra, unlike ISIS, has tended to direct most of its fore against the regime (and against ISIS), and has tended to be much more reticent about imposing the kind of furious theocratic repression that defines the Islamic State. Therefore, the FSA has long rejected the US diktat, active since 2012, to defer the fight against Assad and instead launch an all-out war against Nusra (http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/americas-hidden-agenda-in-syrias-war).

The FSA well-understands that Nusra is a sectarian danger to the revolution that will need to be dealt with at a time of their own choosing, but with far more powerful and far more murderous enemies, they also understand that the US demand that it launch a premature attack on Nusra is merely an attempt to get the democratic and Islamist opponents of Assad to eliminate each other while the regime laughs.

Moreover, the Syrian composition of Nusra (unlike much of ISIS) means that a significant section of its ranks are only in Nusra due to its better arms, finance and organisation, and not due to ideological commitment; therefore, the continual US bombing of Nusra since 2014, while the mass-murdering regime remains untouched, is perceived by Syrians as an indirect attack on the revolution, regardless of their opinions on Nusra (see the condemnations of US air strikes by most FSA and rebel forces in 2014: https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/syrian-rebels-overwhelmingly-condemn-us-bombing-as-an-attack-on-revolution/).

SF walks fine line: No cooperation with Nusra, but no war with Nusra

In the case of the SF, unlike its FSA allies in the north, where conditions dictate they need to militarily collaborate with a range of Islamists, including even Nusra, the SF declared in 2015 that it would no longer coordinate even on a simple military level with Nusra, due to the fundamental ideological differences:

“[We] reject any military or [ideological] cooperation or rapprochement with the Al-Nusra Front or any takfiri [ideology] adopted by any group among the ranks of the Syrian rebels … [We] consider the Southern Front the only military [entity] representing the Syrian revolution in southern Syria” (https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/NewsReports/565114-fsa-moves-against-nusra-in-south-syria).

FSA advisor Usama Abu Zeid explained the move as having a number of causes (http://eaworldview.com/2015/04/syria-interview-why-southern-rebels-distanced-themselves-from-jabhat-al-nusra/). First, the FSA said that “from a place of responsibility towards the nation,” Nusra needs to split with al-Qaida. Second, while “the Syrian revolution can absorb differences in ideas and opinions,” they must “fall within the framework of the national Syrian revolution” and thus “transnational agendas” must be rejected. Zeid also noted the tendency of Nusra to claim responsibility for SF victories, and foreign media played this up (whereas the same media tended to blame the SF when there were defeats).

When a mafiosi Nusra unit in northern Idlib province massacred 23 Druze villagers last June, all Syrian revolutionary organisations vigorously condemned this crime (https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2015/06/15/revolutionary-forces-throughout-syria-condemn-nusras-massacre-of-druze-villagers/). The Southern Front’s condemnation was particularly strong:

“The Southern Front condemns in the strongest terms the horrible massacre that happened to our people in Luweiza in Idlib committed by the Nusra Front and considers it a crime committed against common living and Syrian diversity in general and announces its readiness to protect Druze villages in Idlib as an additional step to protect Syrian diversity and richness” (https://www.facebook.com/solidaysyria/photos/a.634790499897689.1073741830.625693980807341/913965731980163/?type=1).

However, in the same interview cited above, FSA advisor Usama Abu Zeid emphasised that it has no intention of going to war against Nusra, understanding who the main enemies are:

“Jabhat al-Nusra needs to understand that this is not a declaration of war. The FSA has exercised self-restraint in several situations, and has made the national interest and the gains of the Syrian revolution the top priority. The FSA has not taken upon itself the decision to face off [with Nusra]. Jabhat al-Nusra needs to understand that its connection to Al Qa’eda hurts the Syrian interest.”

This shows the fine line the “moderate” yet revolutionary militant SF has tried to walk.

The context: Regime aims to finish off southern resistance for Vienna “peace process”

This is the general background to the news we read in these two articles below, about the MOC ordering the SF to fight Nusra instead of Assad, and the US cutting “support.” The more specific context of these moves includes the increasingly savage Russian bombing all over the south (ie, of an area where ISIS does not exist) and of regime starvation sieges of the revolutionary towns and suburbs around Damascus.

The US knows it cannot use the proudly independent SF for its own purposes, and so it will only begin again to send some “support” if the SF turns itself into a US proxy to fight Nusra, and enters into alliance with the regime as part of the Vienna ‘peace process’, ie, enters into a “transitional” regime with elements of the regime, and as is now official US policy, these “elements” include Assad himself, and his immediate circle of henchmen – Assad will still head the “transitional” regime till mid-2017!

This entire process needs an article of its own, but its general outline needs to be understood in order to grasp these latest moves of sabotage against the Southern Front (watch this space for that upcoming article, in the meantime I recommend analyses on the excellent Magpie [https://magpie68.wordpress.com/2016/01/25/russias-double-game-in-syria/, https://magpie68.wordpress.com/2015/11/24/syria-peace-in-our-time/] and Eternal Spring [https://eternispring.wordpress.com/2015/12/21/5-points-to-make-on-syria-and-its-future-prospects/] blogs).

In this, the role of Jordan at the southern border is crucial – the Jordanian monarchy has placed itself as the go-between for the US and Russia, both of which it has excellent relations with; Jordan is essentially allied to the line of Egypt’s tyrannical regime of al-Sisi (pro-US, pro-Russia, pro-Assad). It was therefore no surprise that, tasked with drawing up a list of “terrorist” organisations to be excluded from the Vienna “peace process,” against whom all-out war is to be launched by the “transitional” regime and all foreign states currently bombing Syria, Jordan came up with a list of some 160 rebel groups, some half the anti-Assad insurgency (http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/jordan-presents-list-160-terrorist-groups-syria-international-council-2106399989)!

The betrayal of the SF and the question of “moderates”

One final comment about the search for Syrian “moderates.” Most supporters of the Syrian revolution hate the Orientalist way that western imperialists and the western left use this term to decide who are “good” and “bad” Syrians when they are fighting for their very survival against such a barbaric regime bombing its entire country to bits. One would not feel very “moderate” in such circumstances. If being “moderate” means responding to a fascist regime using every conceivable weapon bar nuclear against its people, by forming prayer groups and engaging in letter writing campaigns rather than shooting back, then sure there are few “moderates,” and who would want them.

However, “moderate” might also be used as a not-very-precise political identification. Thus, rebels who are politically “moderate” might either be politically secular, that is believe in full separation of church and state, and the setting up of a civil state, or, if Islamist, be only of the mildest kind, opposed to forcible imposition of so-called “Islamic law” and so on; and more generally, to support democracy, women’s rights, and equality for Syria’s various ethnic and religious groups. That is, “moderate” as opposed to advocates of theocratic repression. In this case, there are of course plenty of “moderates” fighting the regime in Syria (http://blogs.new.spectator.co.uk/2015/11/yes-there-are-70000-moderate-opposition-fighters-in-syria-heres-what-we-know-about-them), of which the SF is a prominent example, and of course they deserve our support.

Using this meaning, the only thing worse than hearing imperialist leaders complaining that there are hardly any “moderates” to support, and if you do arm them, they give their arms to the “extremists,” is listening to the imperial “left” criticising imperialist rulers for ever thinking there were any “moderates” at all, and agreeing that if they did exist, they would give their weapons to “jihadists”. Because, after all, the imperial left knows even better than the imperialist leaders that there can be “no good guys” in a place like Syria; everyone there, of course, is scum.

Unfortunately, finding many among the imperial left to be even more racist than imperialist rulers on this question is no longer surprising.

But what the incident with the failed US attempt to forge an anti-ISIS brigade that would not fight Assad, on one hand, and the betrayal of the genuine, powerful SF, on the other, reveal, is that finding politically “moderate” forces fighting the regime who are powerful enough is not really the problem it is made out to be. The problem is that for the US and other western states, “moderate” also means being ready to serve western “interests” rather than the interests of the Syrian revolution. And the FSA has never been “moderate” like this. Because this means ending the revolution and joining an Assadist regime, with or without Assad (and now it means explicitly with).

Explaining why the US was not arming the Syrian rebels back in 2013, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, said that the Obama administration was opposed to “even limited” US military intervention in Syria as no side represented US interests (http://blogs.reuters.com/david-rohde/2013/08/22/a-moment-of-truth-in-damascus-and-washington): “Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides… It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favour. Today, they are not.”

Thus not “moderate” enough.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

These two articles below describe the current turn of events quite well.

Daraa rebels ordered to stop fighting Syria regime: report

https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/NewsReports/566514-daraa-rebels-ordered-to-stop-fighting-syria-regime-report

The Amman-based Military Operations Center (MOC) directed Southern Front factions to focus their efforts against Al-Nusra Front.

BEIRUT – The Amman-based Military Operations Center (MOC) that helps coordinate rebel operations in southern Syria has ordered Free Syrian Army-affiliated factions to stop attacking regime forces and instead focus their efforts against the Nusra Front, according to a Lebanese daily.

Al-Akhbar reported that the MOC informed the commanders of several Southern Front coalition fighting forces—including the Omari Brigades, Youth of Sunnah Brigade, and Yarmouk Army— of the new strategy during a meeting January 8 in Amman.

“The goal of the meeting was to inform the armed groups of MOC’s new direction, the schedule for the coming period, and the types of support that [foreign backers] would provide the militants through the operations room,” security sources told the pro-Damascus newspaper in an article published Wednesday morning.

The sources added that the FSA-linked groups were told by Jordanian, US and British intelligence officials to “stop operations against the Syrian army and avoid periphery battles,” in reference to intermittent rounds of fighting between the rebels and ISIS-affiliated groups in southern Syria.

Instead, the Southern Front factions present in the Amman meeting—as well as the allied Army of Free Tribes group backed by Jordan—were instructed to concentrate on fighting both the Al-Nusra Front and Islamic Muthana Movement, which is close to the Al-Qaeda affiliate.

“The decision to liquidate the jihadists in the south has been taken,” the newspaper’s sources claimed.

The Amman meeting, as depicted by Al-Akbhar, would serve as the final blow to the Southern Front’s increasingly struggling efforts to fight regime forces in the Daraa Province.

The FSA-linked coalition had notched a series of stunning successes against government troops in the spring of 2015, however its campaigns ground down in the summer after the failure of the “Southern Storm” offensive to seize the provincial capital Daraa.

Reports began to emerge in September that the MOC had scaled back its support for the coalition, while rebels started complaining about a lack of assistance as their military successes dried up.

MOC promises new aid for new mission

Al-Akhbar claimed that the foreign powers operating the MOC promised rebels renewed aid in return for them agreeing to change tracks and launch a major campaign against Nusra.

“Each faction that joins the campaign will receive five tanks with full training for their crews as well as other incentives related to salaries and armament,” sources told the pro-Hezbollah daily.

The rebel leaders present in the Amman meeting all agreed to the MOC’s new plan, except the Youth of Sunnah Brigade chief, who eventually consented following further guarantees of support.

According to Al-Akhbar, the rebels were also promised training in a US-prepared base that will be staffed by military experts from Britain, Jordan and other Western states.

Russia-Jordan rapprochement

The MOC’s alleged decision comes within the context of “warming ties” between Amman and Moscow following Russia’s aerial intervention on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime.

On October 23, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced in Vienna that his country and Amman had agreed to coordinate military actions in Syria with a “special working mechanism” based in the Jordanian capital.

A month later, Jordanian King Abdullah II met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Russian capital during a visit in which he said that the “only way of finding a political solution in Syria is with the strong role that both [Putin] and Russia play.”

Jordan was also tasked in November by Washington and Moscow with formulating a list of terrorist groups in the war-torn country that would be the target of mutually agreed upon airstrikes by the rival powers currently intervening in the conflict.

An unnamed source in the FSA’s Southern Front told Alaraby Aljadeed that coordination between the two countries would not bode well for rebels in the Daraa province.

“The Southern Front have been aware that the Jordanian authorities are in contact with Russia and possibly the Assad regime to coordinate some issues. But the [implementation] of these contracts may signal the start of a new phase, which could have negative implications,” he said in an interview with the London-based newspaper.

In a further sign that Jordan was shifting stances regarding the course of fighting in Daraa, Syrian National Security Bureau chief Ali Mamlouk allegedly recently visited Amman to discuss the border region.

Al-Quds al-Arabi reported in November that Mamlouk had met with high-ranking officials in Amman during his “important and secret” trip to discuss potential security issues.

The newspaper did not go into detail on what specific matters the Bashar al-Assad regime’s pointman broached, however it said they were related “by necessity” to southern Syria.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Has Jordan Acquiesced to Assad Regime Offensive in Southern Syria?

http://www.mei.edu/content/article/has-jordan-acquiesced-assad-regime-offensive-southern-syria

By Osama Al Sharif | Jan 12, 2016

Jordan is yet to react publicly to a fresh land assault by Syrian regime forces, backed by Hezbollah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fighters, against rebel-held towns in southern Syria. The land campaign was launched on December 28 with air support from Russian jets, and has been intensifying since. The governorate of Dara’a, and in particular the strategic town of Sheikh al-Maskeen, has been bombed by the Russian air force on a daily basis since the beginning of the year, in a bid to recapture territories from opposition forces in the south, along borders with Jordan, and in the southwest, close to the cease-fire lines with Israel.

The recent campaign aims at strengthening the bargaining position of the Damascus regime, and its Russian and Iranian allies, ahead of planned negotiations between the government and the opposition later this month.

Russia’s involvement in the campaign has raised questions about an earlier ‘understanding’ reached between King Abdullah of Jordan and President Vladimir Putin not to change the status quo in the south of Syria. The king had met Putin in Moscow on November 25, where it was reported that an agreement with the Kremlin was reached a month earlier to ensure “Russian bombing of targets in southern Syria, which borders the country, does not target Western-backed rebels known as the Southern Front—a grouping it supports as a buffer against the spread of hardline Islamist groups.”

That understanding was dubbed by Jordanian political analyst Mohammad Abu Rumman “a gentleman’s agreement.” He told this author that, according to that deal, Jordan had suspended the work of the Military Operations Command (MOC), an operations room staffed by Arab and Western military forces, including the United States, and “forced its biggest ally, the Southern Front, to halt all military actions.”

The Southern Front, which is largely made up of Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters and other groups, including elements of Jabhat al-Nusra, had managed to push government forces back at least 30 miles to the north. Jordan has managed to build good working relations with the Southern Front in a bid to stem the flow of Syrian refugees and to create a buffer zone between the kingdom and Islamic State militants, also known as ISIS or Daesh.

The recent conflagration in Syria’s south may have triggered a fresh wave of refugees who are now stranded along the Jordan-Syria borders. Jordan’s State Minister for Information Mohammad al-Momani told AFP on January 11 that at least 16,000 Syrian refugees are now in make-shift camps near the border with Syria. Jordan has been criticized for not facilitating the passage of refugees, claiming that they have to go through security screening first.

Abu Rumman said that there are grounds for Jordan’s concerns regarding the latest military offensive in Dara’a. “There is clearly an Iranian-backed scheme to control southern Syria or at least the Houran plains, which could result in the fleeing of one million Syrians to Jordan,” he said. “Clearly this is a bold challenge to Jordan’s national security.” He added that Jordan’s silence reflects the state of confusion at the decision-making level.

But Sultan Hattab, a Jordanian political commentator, disagrees. He said that Jordan’s lack of response means that the kingdom has no problem with the government forces taking over the southern region. He said that “Jordan wants a safe zone in southern Syria and if the Syrian regime takes over then that goal will be met.” He added that such a development might even allow Syrian refugees in Jordan—numbering more than 1.5 million—to begin to return to Dara’a. “Jordan and Russia are coordinating and Amman must have been informed about the latest campaign,” Hattab said. The Russian intervention in Syria has changed Jordan’s perspective on developments inside that country, he added.

Fahd al-Khitan, a Jordanian political analyst, agreed with Hattab that Jordan and Russia are coordinating militarily, adding that Amman and Moscow “are in agreement over the future of southern Syria.” In his view, Jordan has no problem with the return of the regime to the south since “this could result in reconciliation between Amman and Damascus under Russian auspices.”Khitan added that Jordan must have received guarantees from Russia regarding possible changes in the balance of power in southern Syria.

But in spite of weeks of heavy bombing by Russia and bloody confrontations in Sheikh al-Maskeen, which lies on the Damascus-Amman highway, regime forces have not managed to expel opposition fighters or recapture the town. A spokesman for the Southern Front’s Seif al-Sham Brigades told the Financial Times on January 7 that southern Syria “was one of their last cards (MOC), the one area where there was still a functioning relationship between the rebels and the international community.”

Jordanian military expert Mazen al-Qadi blamed the Americans for “lacking a clear vision on Syria,” which has allowed the Russians to change the reality in southern Syria. He told the author that Jordan has managed its borders with Syria as best as it could—preventing the conflict from spreading into the kingdom and hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees at the same time. “But with the weakening of the U.S. position, which resulted in Washington halting weapons supplies from reaching the FSA, Jordan had to cope with such developments,” Qadi said. He said that the “rules of the game” have changed in Syria and it is Russia that is dictating the new rules.

The United States has not commented on the Russian-backed military offensive in southern Syria. King Abdullah, who is in Washington this week, has met with defense officials but news reports did not say if the latest developments in the south were discussed.

Abu Rumman said that Jordan’s perceptions of various aspects of the Syrian conflict have been pragmatic. “In all its dealings with the regime and some opposition groups, Amman maintained flexible relationships,” he said. “But all along it has kept a safety margin regarding its interests in southern Syria through alliances and understandings with the local community and the FSA. Now, with the latest offensives, such alliances and understandings are being tested,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s at issue in the siege of Madaya: Mass starvation, or a few fake pics?

By Michael Karadjis

Throughout the world, people have been shocked by the scenes of starving people in the Madaya concentration camp in southern Syria, besieged by the Assad regime and its allied death-squad Hezbollah (which has invaded Syria from Lebanon). Some 40,000 people are trapped, besieged and starved as a weapon of war by the dictatorship which has used every conceivable means to maintain its power over the last five years; people are reported to be eating grass, insects and cats and dogs.

Yet it appears that many leftists – ie, many opponents of exploitation, oppression and injustice, advocates of a “another world is possible” – believe the main task confronting us is once again to find whatever excuses, whatever obfuscation, whatever mitigation they can on behalf of the tyrannical fascist regime responsible.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, though, they are often as incompetent as they are mendacious. I am referring to a number of allegations about several false images that have published in some media. As examples, I will just use three links that were sent to a list-serve I am involved with, the GreenLeft Discussion Group:

  1. From the Baathist organ El Akhbar: ‘Fake Images of Starvation in Madaya Surfing the Web’ http://el-akhbar.com/en/Fake-Images-Starvation-Madaya-53082/ (while obviously media connected to a fascist state is not leftist media, it is being spread by leftists)
  1. ‘Madaya: BBC caught recycling footage from Yarmouk’ https://thewallwillfall.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/madaya-bbc-caught-recycling-footage-from-yarmouk/, and
  1. ‘West Media Starves Truth in Syria’, by the indefatigable defender of the Assad regime, Finian Cunningham, on the oddball conspiracist site ‘Information Clearing House’ http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article43915.htm

Before looking at the charges, we need to underline a couple of important points.

Starvation siege is real

 First, the starvation siege is real (like a host of other medieval sieges, accompanied by massive aerial bombing, throughout Syria). Reports from Doctors Without Borders (MSF: https://www.msf.org.au/media-room/press-releases/press-release/article/syria-siege-and-starvation-in-madaya.html), Amnesty International (https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/01/harrowing-accounts-of-life-under-siege-in-syria/), the Red Cross (http://eaworldview.com/2016/01/syria-1st-hand-from-madaya-first-impression-really-heartbreaking/), the United Nations, the Syrian-American Medical Society (https://www.sams-usa.net/foundation/index.php/component/content/article/2-uncategorised/245-madaya-siege-report), among countless others, testify to this.

The UN humanitarian chief, Stephen O’Brien, said about 400 “are in grave peril of losing their lives” if not evacuated immediately (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/madaya-un-plan-to-evacuated-400-starving-people-from-village-after-being-trapped-by-assad-regime-a6807006.html), and MSF has reported that 23 patients in the health centre it supports have died of starvation since the beginning of December. MSF Director of Operations, Brice de le Vingne, claiming this “is a clear example of the consequences of using siege as a military strategy,” laid the blame squarely on the Syrian regime:

“Madaya is now effectively an open air prison for an estimated 20,000 people, including infants, children and elderly. There is no way in or out, leaving the people to die. The medics we support report injuries and death by bullet and landmine wounds from people that tried to leave Madaya” (http://www.msf.org/article/syria-siege-and-starvation-madaya-immediate-medical-evacuations-and-medical-resupply).

Thus, even if every image published were fake – which would be a problem, certainly, and call into question motivations etc – it wouldn’t alter the facts of what is going on.

The issue of false images

Second, the overwhelming majority of images would appear to be genuine. According to chief official of the UN representative for the Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Yacoub El Hillo, “It was at times difficult to determine whether what we were seeing was actually fabricated or exaggerated,” but after stepping foot in Madaya, he confirmed, “It is not. It is not. I am sad to say it is not. These are true stories coming out of Madaya” (http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-12/united-nations-confirm-images-of-starving-children/7084492).

However, it is true that some images have been published which are not from Madaya, whether intentionally or otherwise. Given that the numbers of images coming out of this terrible war are probably in the millions, it is hardly surprising that fake images abound on all sides. The absolute experts on it are the regime and its armies of propaganda outlets, spin doctors, death squad allies and the Russian and Iranian Fox News equivalents. The difference is that, whereas in the case of Madaya, it appears a few fake images have slipped into the story of a genuine tragedy, the regime’s propagandists sometimes create “events” that are backed in their entirety by nothing other than fake images.

One good example was the ‘Adra massacre’ of late 2013. According to the Putinist spin machine RT, the militia Jaysh Islam, based in the bombed out, besieged, Gaza-Plus ghetto of East Ghoutta, invaded Adra, another Damascus suburb held by the regime, and carried out a particularly gruesome massacre of some 80 people of the largely minority (Christian and Alawite) population. The problem is that the entire “evidence” produced for this “massacre” was a bunch of images all of which were fake (see: http://lopforum.tumblr.com/post/70411153632/alleged-adra-massacre-collated-media).

In comparison with this level of dedication to manufacturing “facts” out of air, the relative handful of fake images produced about Madaya, a crisis that cannot be denied, simply does not compare (although such unprofessionalism and sloppiness is not alright – especially because it gives the tyrant-lovers an opening to divert attention from the real issue of mass starvation to their conspiracies and irrelevancies).

But now let’s look at the three stories by Assad-lovers who believe finding fault with the oppressed and terrorised is more important than condemning the oppressors and terrorisers.

The article ‘Madaya: BBC caught recycling footage from Yarmouk’ (https://thewallwillfall.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/madaya-bbc-caught-recycling-footage-from-yarmouk/) shows that the BBC used footage from the Yarmouk Palestinian camp in southern Damascus in June 2014 in a video about Madaya. Yes, clearly a mistake was made. The article shows both youtubes with the image of a young man shouting about the situation. However, on the Madaya video, this scene from Yarmouk lasts a total of two seconds. The rest would appear to be Madaya.

Why would the BBC deliberately fake one image for a mere two seconds, “to build the climate for war on Syria” as the Assadists would have us believe, when they have plenty of genuine footage, especially given that the genuine footage is so much more harrowing than a healthy-looking young man shouting? Surely this is just minor incompetence?

The Baathist el-Akhbar source (‘Fake Images of Starvation in Madaya Surfing the Web’ http://el-akhbar.com/en/Fake-Images-Starvation-Madaya-53082/) provides several images which were taken at other times. It begins with one about a smiling young girl which some twitter sites claimed is a Madaya resident:

“This photo that has gone viral on the web to win the world sympathy and turn it into a global condemnation of the Damascus government has been taken in Amman, the Jordanian capital, and belongs to a Syrian refugee covered in an al-Arabiya news channel report in January 2014, where she was called Syria’s Mona Liza.”

This is true. Here is a story about the original photo: http://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2014/01/118759/picture-of-a-syrian-mona-lisa-selling-gum-in-ammans-streets-goes-viral/

It is certainly incompetent to post a photo previously run in al-Arabiya and claim it is something else. But although Akhbar claims the photo has “gone viral,” I must say that I had not seen it until now on countless pages about the Madaya crisis. There have been a number of photos of starving people, including children, that have gone viral, but none of them that I’ve seen a lot of are among these handful of fakes.

One interesting general point about all this is that Akhbar shows that this one is from Jordan’s massive Zaatari refugee camp, which houses 100,000 who have fled Assad’s terror; the starving boy she is being juxtaposed against (the fake image claims they are the same person) is actually from East Ghoutta; another image of a starving man is from East Ghoutta; and a starving baby is also from Yarmouk. Incompetent, even deliberately, perhaps; but what these Baathist mouthpieces try to skip over is that the reason photos of starving children and adults can be found in Yarmouk and East Ghoutta is the same reason that abundant images are available from Madaya: yes, the Assad regime also bombs, besieges and starves East Ghoutta, Yarmouk, Moadamiyah, Daraya and countless other poverty-stricken southern communities which resist its rule.

For the apologists, mixing up which children are being starved to death by Assad is a much bigger crime than starving all of them to death. For East Ghoutta, Akhbar claims the man “died of cold, malnutrition and disease,” but of course it does not tell us why. With the baby in Yarmouk, it says “Palestinians have long been taken hostage by the ISIL and al-Nusra Front terrorists.” However, the photo was taken on March 31, 2014, according to Akhbar, yet ISIS did not invade the camp until April 2015! The starvation, as is well-known, was due to the long-term Assad-regime starvation siege on Yarmouk, nothing to with ISIS. Baathist organs are thus just as incompetent as those they are critiquing, and in this instance, far more malicious. Nevertheless, this Akhbar article at least has some real exposure, unlike 2 seconds of a 2 minute video, as in the first source.

The third source, Cunningham’s article (http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article43915.htm), is mostly just his wild Baathist propaganda (he should at least be credited for his good imagination), but it does touch on the question of images, and gets it all wrong. Cunningham begins:

“Take the image of the malnourished little girl whom the BBC and the British Independent newspaper claimed was from the Syrian town of Madaya. Turns out the girl is from south Lebanon. Her name is Marianna Mazeh. The photo published widely this week by Western media is from three years ago … Turns out too that Marianna’s family are infuriated that her forlorn image is being circulated for propaganda purposes. “I live in Tayr Filsey [south Lebanon], not Madaya, and I am fine,” the little girl told Al Manar news agency.” [go to Cunningham’s article for embedded links].

Trouble is, the image that Cunningham shows at the BBC and Independent links – a baby in a hood that has indeed “gone viral” and is seen on a great many Madaya solidarity pages – is not the same image as the one that “Marianna” claims to be in his other link. “Marianna” in Lebanon claims to be the same smiling young girl that Akhbar claims is a Syrian refugee in Jordan – so while Cunnningham gets his images all wrong, Cunningham and Akhbar make rival claims about who the smiling girl is.

Cunningham assures us that “she is now aged seven and apparently has made a full recovery from her earlier emaciated condition,” noting “the reason for her previous illness is not clear.” Of course, the smiling girl photo was not of an emaciated girl with an illness.

Regarding the claim that “Syria’s Mona Liza” is actually “Marianna” from Lebanon, the link provided is a video of Marianna and her father speaking. Is it the same girl several years later? While not impossible for a face to change shape, it is unusual for eye colour to change from green to dark. At no time in the video does Marianna or her family show a photo of Marianna several years earlier, except a blurry one within a family photo, still less a copy of the actual photo which they claim to have taken.

Like much else on the Internet, therefore, the Baathist exercise in disproving either propaganda or incompetence turns out to be propaganda and incompetence. Meanwhile, Assad’s war against the southern communities goes on.

The Political Context

Around a million communities throughout Syria are currently under siege, and of 52 active sieges, 49 are imposed by the regime, 2 by rebels in Idlib (of the Shiite villages Foua and Kefraya) and one – Deir Ezzor – by both ISIS and the regime (https://breakthesieges.org/en).

The context of Assad’s starvation siege of Madaya is his stepped up war against the working-class communities around Damascus which have been in revolt against the regime since the outset, and stepped up Russian bombing all over the south (where, needless to say, Russia engages in its “war on ISIS” in a region where ISIS does not exist, like elsewhere). In the context of the current flurry of imperialist-driven “peace” discussions, the regime is going out of its way to consolidate its position with an all-out carpet-bombing and starve-till-you-submit campaign.

It is deeply ironic that the pro-Baathist propaganda machines claim the “propaganda” around Madaya is, yet again, you guessed it, part of some imaginary imperialist war-drive against the nice “elected, secular government” of Assad (a particularly egregious example of this pro-Baathist propaganda, oblivious to facts is this dreadful piece:  (http://blackagendareport.com/madaya_victim_of_war_against_syria). These people, who presumably still haven’t noticed some 16 months of actual US bombing of Syria – bombing everyone except Assad – have reality turned on its head.

The US, European and Russian Vienna “peace process” aims to get the regime and selected opposition representatives to form a “transitional” authority, which would keep Assad in power till at least March 2017, after which “elections” would allegedly take place. The US has now explicitly accepted this timetable for Assad to remain in power another 14 months (http://news.yahoo.com/apnewsbreak-us-sees-assad-staying-syria-until-march-081207181–politics.html).

In the meantime, this “transitional” regime, and Russia, the US and various other countries currently bombing Syria, would together launch an all-out war against ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, and any other opposition militias deemed to be “terrorists” by these countries. An initial list drawn up by the Jordanian monarchy included the names of 160 rebel groups (http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/jordan-presents-list-160-terrorist-groups-syria-international-council-2106399989)!

In the initial discussions, the US and other western governments pushed for a 6-month “transition” period in which Assad would remain in power (note that even this 6 months, or even one day, was rejected out of hand by the every wing of the opposition, who agreed to negotiate with Assad only on the basis that he resign at the beginning, not end, of the transitional regime).

However, as analyst Scott Lucas explains, these earlier goals to get the process moving earlier (and finished earlier) were “ unlikely to be met amid disputes over which opposition and rebel groups are acceptable, continued Russian and regime bombing of opposition areas and assassination of rebel commanders, and Assad’s rejection of discussions until “terrorists” have been defeated” (http://eaworldview.com/2016/01/syria-daily-us-plan-assad-stays-until-march-2017-in-political-transition/).

Put another way, once the regime and Russia responded to these meekly put western proposals by continuing this bombing, assassinating, rejecting and so on, the US and the West decided, OK, let’s give Assad an extra year to finish bombing the opposition to bits, assassinating more leaders, starving more communities to death, torturing to death thousands more, and hence properly defeating all the troublesome “terrorists” (ie, everyone fighting Assad), who, after all, are no more loved by the US than they are by Assad and Russia.

In particular, given that the opposition rejects the US-EU-Russian blueprint for Assad to remain in power throughout the alleged “transition” period, it seems most likely that imperialist rulers have decided to look the other way while Assad bombs and starves their support base into submission; and so given this extra year or more by the “international community” to continue bombing all these “terrorists” (aged from under one to 100 or more), Assad is now going for broke to fulfill this international expectation.

Commenting on the delays by the UN and other international organisations, Ahmed Moadamaini, representative of the Coordination Committees of Moadamiyeh, another southern town under siege, claimed “quite frankly, today the street no longer trusts the United Nations and considers them partners in these crimes.” In reference to the international plan to keep Assad in power till 2017, Ahmed further noted that:

“After all this misery, we are sure that the UN, in one way or another, doesn’t want Assad to leave… so they do not make a move to stop this disaster taking place and to try him for war crimes.”

UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura claims this alleged “political solution” will be facilitated by “local ceasefires” in bombarded and besieged areas, but, according to reporter Imogen Lambert, “Syrians say that this forces them out of their homes and cities, and allows Assad to gain further ground in opposition-held regions,” giving as an example the Assad regime “issuing strongly worded threats to Moadamiyeh that the city will be annihilated if locals do not immediately evacuate, with sieges intended to put more pressure on locals to accept deals.”

However, “we would rather die honest and free than live in humiliation and slavery,” according to Ahmed (http://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/indepth/2016/1/8/starved-into-accepting-a-political-solution-in-syria).

Drop Food, Not Bombs

 For those less concerned with whitewashing fascist regimes and being apologists of the use of starvation as a war tactic, the slogan “drop food, not bombs” became a rallying cry:

“The UK has shown it can drop bombs in Syria: they are no help to the starving. Now it is time to show what good the UK and its armed forces can do for people inside Syria. Protect civilians: Begin RAF food aid drops to Madaya now” (http://leftfootforward.org/2016/01/syrians-call-for-raf-food-drops-on-madaya-where-people-are-starving-to-death/; also http://www.thestruggle.org/air%20drop%20food%20to%20towns%20under%20siege%20in%20syria.htm, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2016/01/12/snp-mp-calls-for-uk-to-dr_n_8961776.html).

Meanwhile, the international campaign over the starvation in Madaya did score an important success, in forcing the regime to allow the UN to bring in food, thus temporarily breaking the starvation siege. For all the nonsense talk about a “propaganda” campaign uses fake images to beat the war drums, the reality is that the campaign brought food to children’s stomachs (though of course this is only temporary and not nearly enough; people are still dying of starvation).

Importantly, solidarity came from the region as well. Palestinians in Yarmouk refugee camp, similarly besieged and starved by the regime, sent their solidarity on a number of occasions (https://syriafreedomforever.wordpress.com/2016/01/04/messages-of-solidarity-with-besieged-madaya). Palestinian children in Yarmouk sent a message to Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah: “O Hassan the Trumpet [a derogatory name for the ‘resistance’ leader]: The road to Jerusalem does not pass through Madaya or Yarmouk. Try another one” (https://www.facebook.com/RadioFreeSyria/photos/a.382885705129976.91927.363889943696219/959717220780152/?type=3&theater). Likewise, hundreds of Lebanese demonstrators blocked the Beirut to Damascus highway to protest Hezbollah’s involvement and show solidarity with Madaya (http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2016/Jan-09/330983-protesters-block-masnaa-crossing-over-madaya-siege.ashx#).

Meanwhile, a group of Lebanese Shiites published a document rejecting the siege and Hezbollah’s role in the war in Syria, rightly comparing the “siege logic” to tactics used by Israelis against Arabs and Palestinians for decades, and they condemned the sectarian displacement of population in Syria, declaring full solidarity with the Syrians demanding freedom. They reject Hezbollah’s claim to be acting on behalf of the Shia (https://twitter.com/mustafafahs/status/685527418040270848)

Madaya, and the rebel-besieged towns in Idlib

 While a small victory has been won, it must be noted that this aid had been held up despite the UN knowing for some time how desperate the situation was. As the ‘Break the Sieges’ site (https://breakthesieges.org/en) explains:

“The UN is choosing not to deliver aid to the besieged areas in Syria without the Assad regime’s permission. This is permission the UN does not even need, since Security Council resolutions 2165, 2191 and 2258 authorise it to deliver aid without the regime’s consent. Unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles are being created as people starve, in some cases just a few minutes away from stockpiled aid.”

It seems that one reason for this was to appear so-called “even-handed,” by delaying aid to Madaya until its arrival could be synchronised with aid arriving in the besieged Shiite towns Fuaa and Kefraya in Idlib. While this may sound very fair, the reality was that people were starving to death in Madaya by the day, as delays continued, while this was not the case in Fuaa and Kefraya.

And here may be the place to say a few words about these sieges. The Baathist cheer squad has made much of these two sieges, claiming they allegedly don’t get the same coverage as the 49 sieges the regime is imposing on opposition communities.

Fuaa and Kefraya are not simply “Shiite villages;” they are armed regime outposts in opposition-controlled Idlib province. Surrounded by rebel-held territory, it is hardly surprising that the rebels launch offensives against regime-held territory. Irresponsible claims that they are targeted “because they are Shiite,” and the rebels of course “hate the Shia,” ignoring the fact that they are regime camps, are irresponsible. Moreover, one reason the rebels haven’t prioritised taking these towns, despite being vulnerable and completely surrounded, and instead have pushed south into (mostly Sunni) south Idlib and Hama province, is precisely because of opposition to the rebels within these towns.

However, what this has meant is that the rebels have tended to increase or reduce the pressure on these towns in response to greater or lesser regime pressure on besieged towns in the south, such as Zabadani and Madaya. By thus using them as bargaining chips, however, the rebel leadership is effectively locking in the sectarian logic pushed by the regime. A rebel leadership with a less sectarian outlook than some of the actors in Idlib (especially Nusra) would make genuine anti-sectarian overtures to the Shia communities in these two towns, like the deals they have done with small Alawite communities in neighbouring Hama (http://www.thenational.ae/opinion/comment/even-assads-supporters-are-baulking-now#full – notably, Nusra is less prominent in the Hama front, which is dominated by Ahrar al-Sham and the Free Syrian Army).

Actually, there is some evidence that non-Nusra rebels, even Ahrar al-Sham, have tried to resist the sectarian logic driven by the regime and its Iranian backers. Notably, during the negotiations to end the regime-Hezbollah siege of Zabadani (a town nearby Madaya) several months back, where Ahrar al-Sham negotiated on behalf of the Zabadani population directly with Iran, the Iranian-Hezbollah demand was for a complete population swap between Zabdani and Fuaa/Kefraya. Ahrar, backed by other rebel groups, rejected this plan for mutual sectarian cleansing.

That said, however, there is a difference between legitimate military offensives and actual siege. The difference is that in a siege, civilians are not allowed in and out to obtain food and so on, under threat of violence. If the Idlib rebels are imposing actual siege on Foua and Kefraya, then this must be condemned like all sieges (and of course, it is condemned by every international declaration on Syria; see Amnesty’s even-handed condemnation of both sides: https://t.co/eune0Fd7I8).

An important difference exists, however, related to the question of power in Syria. Only the Syrian regime has an airforce. Apart from using it to bomb the country back to the Stone Age, it also uses it to drop food – and arms – to the besieged communities in Idlib. This is one reason people are not starving in these two towns, though the situation is reportedly grim. In addition, the Syrian Red Cross entered Fuaa and Kefraya in December, with the rebels’ authorisation, and evacuated 450 wounded pro-Assad fighters and civilians as part of the final Zabadani deal (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-evacuation-idUSKBN0UB0DE20151228).

Moreover, though further research may be necessary, evidence suggests that “the siege in the two Idlib towns apparently was a lot looser … “In Madaya, food prices have hit astronomical levels with rice costing a staggering $256 per kilogram, according to information collected by the Syrian American Medical Society. In Fuaa and Kefraya, rice cost $1.25 per kilogram prior to this week’s deliveries, while tomatoes cost under a dollar, and potatoes about 50 cents each, according to residents there who were in direct communication with besieged residents in Zabadani … Unlike Madaya, where the siege was enforced by snipers and landmines, some goods could apparently still reach the two Idlib villages” (http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/01/15/u-n-knew-for-months-madaya-was-starving-syria-assad/).

In contrast, it is not only in Madaya, but also in other towns besieged by Assad – towns that haven’t got a mention during the Madaya crisis, such as Moadamiyah – that people are dying of starvation. Thus the mantra of being “even-handedly” giving focus to rebel-besieged towns where no one is starving had the effect of keeping the focus away from other towns where they are.

All sieges must end. But when people are being deliberately starved to death, anyone claiming to believe in justice and to oppose oppression knows what the priorities are. ‘Drop food, not bombs’ to break the siege was a slogan that arose from genuine solidarity, and the very heart of the meaning of being ‘on the left’ is solidarity – if the word is to have any meaning at all.

cropped-cropped-dentists-farmers-and-students-lead-dignity-revolutions.jpgThe “emir” of Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Joulani, in a speech where he blasted all the rebel groups participating in the conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (ie, everyone except Nusra and YPG), as committing “big treason to martyrs’ blood”, also claimed “there is no such thing as the FSA,” echoing Robert Fisk and others like him.

Excellent journalist Rami Jarrah, based in Aleppo, interviewed people about this Nusra/Fisk/imperialist/”left” claim that the FSA doesn’t exist. Here is what they answer.

Rami Jarrah, from Aleppo: no FSA? – رامي جراح، من حلب، مافي جيش الحر؟

https://syriafreedomforever.wordpress.com/2015/12/13/rami-jarrah-from-aleppo-no-fsa

Posted on December 13, 2015

Rami Jarrah: There are claims on Syrian soil that there is no such thing as the Free Syrian Army, We took a stroll around Aleppo today asking the locals their opinion on such a statement.

هناك إدعاءات من عدة جهات تقول إن لا وجود لشيئ اسمه الجيش السوري الحرمواطنون سوريون يردون على تلك الجهات

In a televised interview Mohammad al Jolani, Head of Jabhat Al- Nusra, said that there is no such thing as the Free Syrian Army, this was a video survey done randomly the following day on the 13th of December 2015. Citizens were asked their opinion or response to this claim.

This video is hereby translated under full responsibility of ANA PRESS

 

Turkey-Russia spat: One standard for murdered Syrian children, another for the warplanes that kill them

By Michael Karadjis

One small victory for humanity

 Naturally enough, when any warplane engaged in mass murder is brought down, humanity wins a small battle. The Russian invaders of Syria have already slaughtered hundreds of civilians (526 in first 45 days http://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/reports/1447972413#.Vlox_STA1sv), have bombed countless hospitals and medical facilities, schools, markets (like the 44 killed in the bombing of an open market in Ariha in Idlib several days ago http://eaworldview.com/2015/11/syria-daily-russia-kills-44-in-market-bombing/), refugee camps, aid convoys etc; have used cruise missiles (https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/NewsReports/566255-russian-cruise-missiles-pummel-rebel-held-areas-of-syria), cluster bombs (http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/middleeast/article4623770.ece), white phosphorus (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/is-russia-or-france-deploying-chemical-weapons-against-isis-in-raqqa-a6745171.html); on November 28, Russian airstrikes in Idlib “destroyed an aid dispensary containing a bakery that produced over 300,000 pounds of bread per month and a well providing safe-drinking water to an estimated 50,000 people” (http://syriadirect.org/news/50000-people-without-access-to-drinking-water-after-reported-russian-airstrike-hits-well); ten days earlier, they destroyed the bread oven in Atareb, in Aleppo province, which served some 120,000 people (https://syriafreedomforever.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/russian-bombs-against-civilians-القنابل-الروسية-ضد-المدنيين/).

The Russians have targeted the Free Syrian Army (FSA) nearly all the time, and have mostly bombed provinces with zero ISIS presence, except when slaughtering civilians in Raqqa; and all this to aid a fascist regime that has already been bombing its entire country into a moonscape for years; in just a three-week period in November, regime bombing killed 338 and injured 1607 people in an offensive in the sprawling Damascus outer suburbs of East Ghoutta alone (http://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2015/11/20/syrian-regime-offensive-in-eastern-ghouta-has-killed-338), just one of many theatres of the war; an exterminationist regime.

As such there can be nothing but wild cheers from Syrians for the downing of a warplane that has been slaughtering their children. The fact that these weeks and weeks of the most grueling, the most overt, targeting of civilians by an invading army of a superpower has only resulted in a little chiding by Russia’s imperialist partners, and complete indifference (if not support) by the imperial left; yet when one of the warplanes engaged in this mass homicide comes down it is treated as a big deal; is testament to the sick morality of the imperialist world order, including some of those within it imagining they are not part of it.

But questions of celebration and hypocrisy aside, it is useful to look at some specifics here. And I do not mean the irrelevance of which side of the Syrian-Turkish border the Russian killer plane was technically flying in when shot down; that discussion assumes it had the right to be on the Syrian side of the border in the first place. “Anti-imperialists” who join in this imperialist discussion ought to take a look at a map, and notice that Syria in fact is not part of Russia; actually, it is a significant distance away. Therefore there’s little point in a discussion about who was technically right or wrong, since by any standard, Russia did not have the “right” to be flying around killing Syrian people in the first place.

If, for example, it were American warplanes flying around and carpet-bombing a country far from home – Iraq for example – and one got shot down right on the Iranian border, with a dispute over which set of square inches the plane was in, I imagine we would judge the American and the Iranian actions somewhat differently, and rightly so.

 

Russian slaughter of the Turkmen people

But more interesting are the specifics of the case. For weeks, Russia had been intensively bombing Turkmen communities in that region near the Syrian-Turkish border, in northern Latakia province (http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2015/Nov-20/323898-turkey-summons-russian-envoy-over-bombing-of-turkmens-in-syria-pm.ashx). Russia also fired cluster bombs around Yamadi nearby Aubain refugee camps near the border, housing thousands of refugees, several times in the weeks before (http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/middleeast/article4623770.ece). Several days before the incident, the Turkish government summoned the Russian ambassador to protest this; “it was stressed that the Russian side’s actions were not a fight against terror, but they bombed civilian Turkmen villages and this could lead to serious consequences,” the Turkish foreign ministry said describing the meeting (http://www.vox.com/2015/11/24/9792830/russia-plane-turkmen).

At least 1500 Turkmen had already fled the slaughter and taken refuge in Turkey:
https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/22413-turkey-provides-refuge-for-turkmen-fleeing-home-in-syria, while another 5,500 have fled to the Yamadi camp near the border: http://syrianobserver.com/EN/News/30192/Syrian_Turkmen_Flee_Regime_Attacks_Turkey.

Some estimates of the flight across the border are higher. According to Telegraph Middle East correspondents Louisa Loveluck and Richard Spencer, “In recent days, thousands of civilians have fled over the border, saying they feared Russian bombing raids in support of regime forces” (http://www.vox.com/2015/11/24/9792830/russia-plane-turkmen).

One Turkish official, according to Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper, declared that “Turkey won’t be indifferent to attacks targeting the life security of Turkmen” (http://www.vox.com/2015/11/24/9792830/russia-plane-turkmen) – indicating that the downing of the Russian plane may have had more to do with the context of this slaughter than with the boring “legal” formalities.

Most ethnic Turkmen brigades in Syria are affiliated to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), so it is not surprising that Russia has been bombing them, since the FSA has been Russia’s main target in its alleged intervention “against ISIS.” To state the obvious, the province the Russian plane was bombing, Latakia, has had no ISIS presence whatsoever since the FSA drove them out root and branch in early 2014 (when the FSA drove ISIS out of about half of Syria).

However, there are a couple of side issues raised by this incident. One was the shooting of one of the pilots who was parachuting to the ground after the plane was hit; the other was the fact that the fighter who shot him, Alparslan Çelik, was not an ethnic Turkman, but a Turkish fascist, the son of a Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) mayor (http://anfenglish.com/news/turkmen-commander-turns-out-to-be-turkish-nationalist).

The latter detail is somewhat odd, given that the MHP supports the Assad regime, as we will see below; but first let’s examine the shooting issue, and the state of Turkmen militias in Syria.

 

Shooting pilots – and a little digression about Vietnam

 Decades ago, US Republican leader John McCain was flying around in an American warplane bombing and killing Vietnamese peasants, that is, engaged in the same kind of activities as the Russian airforce is in Syria. Vietnamese revolutionaries shot him down, using anti-aircraft weapons supplied by the Soviet Union – ie the kind of weapons denied to the Syrian revolutionaries by the US even after years of aerial genocide – and took him prisoner.

McCain spent time in the famous “Hanoi Hilton,” as American POWs nicknamed the main POW prison. For years McCain complained that his Vietnamese captors had tortured him (and as a result McCain, to his credit, was one of the few semi-neocon Republicans who was critical of the Bush regime’s practice of torturing Islamist prisoners, if inconsistently, unlike Bashar Assad who actively participated in the US “rendition” program). I have no real information on whether this was true or not; obviously, if true, then, like all torture it should be condemned.

Yet for anyone whose sympathies were with the oppressed, the terrorised, McCain’s alleged plight could garner little sympathy; when I lived in Vietnam for some years, a common retort by anti-war Americans now living in Vietnam – often working to help Vietnam overcome the ongoing legacies of US genocide such as Agent Orange and unexploded ordinance – regarding McCain’s whinging decades later, was that “he should be happy he wasn’t shot as a terrorist” as soon as he was captured.

Of course, the Vietnamese army, despite the genocide being inflicted on them for years by the US, did not do this; it did the right thing and kept him alive till the war ended. While someone bombing people from the sky arguably is an aerial terrorist, at the end of the day the individual remains an employee in uniform of the political, economic and military regime who sent him there on behalf of a ruling class that doesn’t put their own children in that kind of danger. But it would surely not be difficult to imagine the terrorised people below – whether in Vietnam then or Syria today – wanting to take the aerial terrorist apart.

So while the shooting down of a warplane is something I consider to be a humanitarian action (in pretty much all circumstances), the shooting of a parachuting pilot is to be condemned, and is considered a war crime. Notably, it violates stated policy of the Free Syrian Army and of the Syrian Coalition of Opposition and Revolutionary Forces (usually called “Syrian Coalition”, the exile-based political opposition leadership with which the FSA is vaguely associated with).

Therefore, it somewhat makes sense to find out that the action was carried out by a fascist from Turkey rather than a local Turkman FSA brigade. But that then raises the question of who are the Turkman brigades, and are they all, uniformly, a bunch of fascist ‘Grey Wolves’ as they are being slandered by various racists across the internet?

 

The Turkmen and their brigades

 There were up to 200,000 Turkmen in Syria before the revolution, but the Assadist aerial slaughter has forced around 90 percent of them over the border into Turkey (a reasonable introduction to the Turkmen issue can be found at: http://www.vox.com/2015/11/24/9792830/russia-plane-turkmen). Turkmen have been involved in the revolution from the outset, in particular, their hostility to the fascistic “Arab” policy of the Baathist regime, which banned their language, being an important factor in addition to the fact that they are also Syrians rising against a dictatorship, like others.

There are many Turkmen brigades of various political shades. There are 8 Turkmen brigades listed as affiliated to the National Coalition (so in this sense we can broadly call them FSA): Sultan Mohamad Al Fatih Brigade, Sultan Suleiman Brigade, Seljuk Brigade, Sultan Selim Brigade, Anwar Al Haq Batallion, Sultan Murad Brigade, Ashab Al Yamin Brigade, Jabal Al Turkman Brigade (http://en.etilaf.org/coalition-components/national-blocks/turkman-component-of-the-syrian-national-coalition.html), along with various Turkmen political organisations which have seats in the Coalition’s parliament. They support the Coalition’s program of the unity of Syria with equal rights for all ethnic and religious minorities. These forces are also organised under the Turkish National Assembly (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrian_Turkmen_Assembly), which has declared: “Regardless of any ethnic or religious identity, a future in which everybody can be able to live commonly under the identity of Syrian is targeted in the future of Syria” (http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/Default.aspx?pageID=238&nid=36998).

A good resource about the formation of Turkmen political and military organisations in Syria can be found at http://www.orsam.org.tr/en/enUploads/Article/Files/2013320_150ing.pdf; though from 2013, it is still very useful.

Thus assertions that all Turkmen brigades are either ‘Grey Wolves” or creations of the Turkish regime’s MIT intelligence agency are irresponsible essentialist claims that deny that Turkmen are just as capable as anyone else of running their own organisations and having a variety of political views.

In contrast, the brigade that Alparslan Çelik is supposedly deputy leader of – the “Turkmen Coastal Division” (or “2nd Coastal Division”) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/12015031/Turkmen-fighters-We-fired-in-the-air.-The-Russian-died-in-the-air.html), is not an affiliate of the Syrian Coalition. Notably, this collection of photos of this brigade at https://www.reddit.com/r/syriancivilwar/comments/3u6im0/the_turkmen_commander_alparslan_%C3%A7elik_who_shot_at/cxcblmd  includes some with them displaying their own emblem or the Turkish flag, but none with the FSA flag, the flag of the Syrian revolution. It is also impossible to find the FSA on their facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/T%C3%BCrkmen-Da%C4%9F%C4%B1-2-SAHiL-T%C3%9CMENi-947137371997615/.

It is hardly surprising that the MHP, the main ultra-rightist, opposition party in Turkey, associated with the infamous Grey Wolves fascistic militia, would try to get involved and spread their Turko-chauvinist poison where ethnic Turkmen exist; they probably see such areas – especially northern Latakia – as part of a ‘Greater Turkey’, a view sharply at odds with the Turkmen organisations that have been in National Coalition since the outset. Possibly the shooting of the parachuting pilot may have been a deliberate stunt to gain some nationalist/extremist credibility among the Turkmen communities being massacred from on high.

However, this particular brigade is not representative of Turkmen fighters and brigades in Syria, and still less does it invalidate their struggle against the regime and their struggle to survive under regime and Russian bombing.

 

The MHP in Turkey: Send the refugees back to Assad!

 The irony of the nationalistic MHP seeming to be onside with forces fighting the Russian invasion in a place where ethnic Turkmen exist is that in the bigger picture, the MHP calls for the expulsion of the 2 million Syrian refugees from Turkey and has supported Assad, and condemned the AKP’s anti-Assad Syria policy, since the outset!

As long ago as 2012, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli condemned the AKP’s support for the Syrian uprising and claimed it “is being used as an instrument for ugly propaganda being carried out [regarding Syria]” (http://www.todayszaman.com/national_mhp-leader-slams-government-on-syria-policy_295521.html).

In May 2015, MHP Antalya deputy Mehmet Günal criticized Turkey’s support to the Syrian opposition and said that under MHP rule, Turkey would have an honorable policy based on mutual interests of both Turkey and Syria (http://www.todayszaman.com/anasayfa_opposition-accuses-ak-party-of-dragging-turkey-into-syria-quagmire_381177.html).

Just before the mid-year Turkish elections, the MHP’s Gaziantep deputy candidate Ümit Özdağ tweeted regarding the Syrian refugees: “The 500,000 Syrians will go, 500,000 tourists will come to Gaziantep.” Talking to the Doğan Media Group right before the elections, the new MHP deputy said the MHP would start negotiations with Assad when they come to power in order to “cut the main logistics behind jihadists who are supported by the U.S.”
(http://www.dailysabah.com/columns/merve-sebnem-oruc/2015/06/10/what-will-turkish-elections-bring-for-syrian-refugees).

“Jihadists supported by the US undermining Assad!” Sounds like the views of a lot of the imperial left!

Unfortunately, the mainstream Kemalist CHP are hardly better:

“The chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, included an election promise in his campaign speeches, vowing that the CHP will send Syrians back to their homeland if his party comes to power. The CHP, which has supported the Assad regime and has not cut its relations with Damascus yet, has always accused the government of plotting against the Syrian regime. According to the CHP, Syrians were not actually refugees, but were brought to Turkey to destabilize the country.”

The MHP, in other words, not only supports Assad – except against the Turkmen – but has much ideologically in common with the Syrian Baath party. Just as German and French fascists might argue about Alsace-Lorraine, so Assad and the MHP might argue about Turkmen regions.

So while the AKP soft-Islamist regime has opportunistically moved closer to the MHP’s position on the Kurds over the last year (away from its own policy of the “peace process”), the essential difference between the contrasting rightist ideologies of nationalism/fascism and Islamism needs to be understood, to understand why the Islamist AKP can welcome 2 million Syrian Arabs as refugees, and be influenced enough by their catastrophe to want to oust Assad, whereas the ethno-chauvinist MHP wants to return the Arab untermenschen, who they denounce as either criminals or “jihadists”, to Assad’s tender mercies.

And of course none of that justifies the AKP’s own resumption of the Turkish state’s war against the Kurds, which seems at least in part to have been driven by the most narrowly opportunistic political concerns between the two Turkish elections. But beggars can’t be choosers – if Turkey, overwhelmed by 2 million refugees from the Syrian apocalypse, needs to get rid of Assad to help deal with this problem, so much the better for the Syrian rebels, as long as they don’t become mere tools for Turkish policy – something there is no evidence for.

Meanwhile, for Kurdish supporters finding a bad taste in their mouths if anything positive is said about any Turkish action, they might ponder how they would react if a Turkish warplane bombing Kurds in eastern Turkey were brought down by the PKK. Consistency has much to be said for it.

 

Conclusion

 Of course this has been something of a digression from the issue here. Since the incident, Russia has taken revenge on the people of Syria by stepping up its terror, bombing intensively along the Turkish borders of Latakia, Idlib and Aleppo, all regions with zero ISIS presence, indeed it has launched an intensive bombing campaign against the Syrian rebels in the Azaz region of northern Aleppo, including bombing Turkish aid trucks (http://eaworldview.com/2015/11/syria-daily-russia-hits-back-with-bombing-of-turkish-aid-trucks/). Azaz is the one point in Aleppo where the Syrian rebels have a border crossing into Turkey, and where they are in confrontation with ISIS-held territory just to their east. In fact, while Russia has been bombing the rebels in Azaz in early December, ISIS has also been attacking them, and seized the town of Kafrah from the rebels, essentially under Russian air cover (https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/NewsReports/566317-isis-advances-in-flashpoint-north-aleppo).

Let me just say that again for anyone *still* spouting nonsense about Russia “fighting ISIS” – Russia is bombing the anti-Assad, anti-ISIS rebels of northern Aleppo, those who have held the main confrontation line with ISIS in the region for two years, while ISIS is attacking those same rebels, with no Russian retaliation. Russia is bombing the rebels in concert with ISIS; but this should not be as surprising as it sounds, because the Assad regime has been doing precisely the same thing the last two years in that region.

Where this ends is unclear. The US is not making any noise about Russia’s Azaz campaign; several days ago, the US demanded that Turkey close its border, and some speculate that the aim now is to allow Russia to forcefully close the border, even if it means temporarily using ISIS, and choke off the rebels; then the US and Russia could join forces to remove ISIS from the border, without the complication of the FSA taking over, who would use it as a base to fight the regime (which ISIS in that region does not do). The picture should emerge more clearly in the next few days.

But to end where we began, with the issue of warplanes and civilian lives; there is a good argument that all air war is almost by definition a war crime. Even genuine concern for civilian life – something the Russian airforce clearly has none of – is almost never any guarantee. For years, Syrians have called for anti-aircraft weapons, to make their own DIY no-fly zone; for years well-known supplies of manpads, shoulder fired anti-aircrafts, have been blocked by the US, fearful that they may actually let the rebels win, which is against US policy, rather than merely hold a little ground. Even when rebels try to get manpads outside official channels, the US remains vigilant; “at least four major Syrian armed opposition groups have tried in recent years to independently purchase manpads on the black market,” according to conversations their leaders had with Charles Lister, yet “somehow, the Americans found out and our purchase was blocked” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charles-lister/russias-intervention-in-s_b_8350266.html?ir=Australia).

As one tweet put it concisely, “the only consistent, thorough, well-implemented US Syrian policy is tracking hunting and stopping MANPADS from reaching any opposition group since 2012” (https://twitter.com/THE_47th/status/659114328012931072).

And that’s why, just as when Vietnamese brought down American warplanes, when any Assadist or Russian warplane is shot down in Syria, it is one small victory for humanity.