Archive for February, 2014

The Current Situation in Syria: Problems and Prospects

Friday, February 28th, 2014

The following are my notes from the presentation on “The Current Situation in Syria: Problems and Prospects” made by Amb. Mark G. Hambley & William Morris (Next Century Foundation) in a round table discussion at the 2014 Dialogue on Middle East Strategies sponsored by the Policy Studies Organization. The notes represent my impression of the presentation, so everything of value in it is due to the presenters and any errors are mine.

Civilian deaths in Syria have declined as the civilian population has evacuated. March 2013 was the peak. The UN has stopped updating casualty figures as the sources are no longer identifiable. Al-Nusra does most of the fighting.  We are cooperating in the ethnic cleansing of places like Homs. Even our humanitarian aid programs are helping to clear out the populations. Increasingly rebel groups are fighting one another. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is having a hard time as Syrian resentment of foreign fighters increases. There are over  5,000 Sunni foreign fighters.  Arab Sunnis are a bare majority in Syria; most of the other Sunnis are Kurds.

The chemical weapons attack of 2013 was a driver of American foreign policy but it is a classic case of communications problems. It occurred in a rebel held area surrounded by the government which had captured about 30 rebels and sent one back to tell the others to surrender or be wiped out. We believe the government then hit them with chemical weapons, but it is not clear. The UN report was staggeringly incompetently written. The intelligence people were not well-trained in weapons and there was much withheld information. Significant chemical weapons evidence was found in ONE missile and most of the information about that was withheld.  We have substantiated 394 deaths including 144 children and 2 women. Mainly young men in the target area but many children as the chemicals disbursed through adjacent neighborhoods. The US government of 1,492 fatalities is too high and politically motivated.  The pledges totaling $2.5 billion to the refugees is pure propaganda and nowhere near that much gets to the refugees. The refugee numbers are also sheer guesswork.

We agree that Asad should not be part of the future of Syria, but the idea that a resolution will be arrived at without including him in the negotiations is absurd. Most of the camps are disgraceful. We think a humanitarian effort under the military based on the recent UN resolution could give a positive impression of the US. We are starting to work closely with our Gulf allies to make sure that funds go to non-terrorist factions. Salim Idriss has been replaced as head of the Free Surian Army (FSA) by a recent arrival who defected from the Syrian regime about a year ago. He has more credibility and more skill sets than his predecessor. We must engage the Russians and the Iranians on this issue.  We have worked with the Russian in Geneva, although it has failed so far. Outreach to the Iranians is more complicated and relations with Russia have been complicated by the Ukraine. NCF has had quiet conversations with the Iranians and we see their position changing somewhat, but the Iranians play tough games; yet, without them, the chances of affecting Bashar are miniscule. The best way to irritate someone of his nature is to find someone in the Alawite community who could replace him. One third of Syria are now refugees (internal or external). Sabra Halal is the oldest refugee in the world, 107 years old living in northeastern Syria, recently driven out by the rebels, languishing in Athens awaiting paperwork to go to Germany, but she will probably die before she can get there.

When Syria coughs, Lebanon sneezes. Despite recognizing Lebanon’s independence, Syria has never appointed an ambassador. Hezbollah has on the order of a thousand troops in Syria. Lebanon itself is a mosaic and the balance of power dictated by the French imposed constitution is destabilizing as the Shia numbers increase.

Under Hilary Clinton the policy was pretty good, avoiding boots on the ground and monitoring where our funds are going. FSA is growing in numbers but they still lack training and the Islamists remain the most effective fighters. Saudis are unhappy with us about Iran, Egypt, and Syria. Hopefully, things will improve now that Muhammad Naif is representing the Saudis.

In the early days he FSA resorted to kidnapping to raise funds. The Islamists came in and refused to exploit the local population in that manner, so they have support from the locals as well as from the outside funders. The Lebanese war lasted over a decade so why would we think this is going to stop any sooner? Even an invasion will not stop it. Some sort of peace process must be forced on Syria. Iran must be part of this. Their position is nuanced. They support Asad, but MORE important to them is that Syria remains a client state. The Saudis number one red line issue to get rid of Asad. Iran privately says if allowed to engage with Saudi Arabia they are willing to think about regime change, a new constitution, and maybe even democracy.  The Alawites are less concerned about the future of Asad than about their fate in the aftermath of his ouster. The Saudis don’t like Shia at all and especially not Iranian Shia. Qatar gets a bad rap. The current government under Shaikh Tamim is very inward looking and more supportive of the US than they have been in the past.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

News and Analysis (2/28/14)

Friday, February 28th, 2014

“The Turkish authorities have freed the sons of two former cabinet ministers pending trial, the latest twist in a major corruption investigation” …

… and “after the law was enacted late on Thursday, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag appointed at least nine new senior members of the judiciary. The opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said the law contained many violations of the constitution, and appealed to the Constitutional Court to repeal it”:

“The Nusra Front has given ISIS until Saturday to accept mediation or face being expelled from Syria. Infighting between rival rebel groups has seen more than 3,000 people killed in the past two months” …

… as “the Syrian war is sending dangerous ripples across a highly combustible region and sparking fears that jihadis will come home with dangerous ideas and turn their weapons against their own countries”:

“This was an incredibly difficult decision made after discussions with the organisers and local Thames Valley Police, following the receipt of a number of threatening phone calls, emails and social media posts to the resort over the last couple of weeks” — Legoland statement:

“How do you explain this person who wrote children’s stories and who grew up in a spiritual home to all of a sudden be fighting against the Nazis?” — Director Rob Gardner about his new film, “Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story”:

“The claim, dismissed by experts and called “shocking to scientists” by the president’s science adviser, strikes a blow to the army’s carefully managed image as the saviour of the nation”:

“‘Israeli soldiers have repeatedly committed serious human rights and humanitarian law violations, including unlawful killings, in response to Palestinian opposition and protests in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,’ the report concludes, criticizing the ‘impunity’ of the Israeli military“…

… while a prominent Christian Palestinian says “a new Israeli Knesset bill … that explicitly distinguishes between Muslim and Christian … citizens of Israel” transforms “its military occupation into an outright religious confrontation” that illegally “defies all the basic principles of democracy and human rights”:

“[A] reluctance to go to war in distant lands is not “isolationism” if the term is to retain any meaning. It’s prudence. Kerry is right that the US won’t be able to do as much militarily and diplomatically if Congress insists on a leaner budget. But our military spending remains robust, to put it mildly”:

“Israel warned Lebanon on Friday to prevent threatened Hezbollah retaliation for an alleged Israeli air strike on a site used by the guerrillas on the Syrian border”:

“Witnesses say Nigerian security forces left the area before students were killed by militant anti-education Boko Haram members on Tuesday, and only returned after the rampage”:

News and Analysis (2/26/14)

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

The research director of Begg’s organization to support Muslim prisoners said, “We are disgusted that Moazzam Begg is being retraumatised with the same guilt by association accusations that resulted in his unlawful incarceration in Guantanamo Bay”:

“They did things to us that is against humanity, against human rights and against Islam. I cannot even talk about that and I will not talk about it…. It was not only me, there were a lot of innocent people they detained” — victim “in his late 70s and in poor health when” US forces seized him from his home”:

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said to pay the worker before the sweat has dried from his brow, but under a system in which nationalism trumps Sharia, some Qataris indefinitely delay payment to migrants leaving them in a state of virtual slavery:

Turkey’s foreign minister … told Reuters a robust international strategy including “real intelligence cooperation” and withdrawal of all foreign fighters was needed to end the conflict and help millions of Syrians devastated by violence”:

“MILF chief for political affairs … and other senior MILF leaders say Tundok is a ranking rebel commander covered by an immunity guarantee from the government. A rebel source close to the talks said Tundok had been turned over to an unnamed local Muslim official. The status of his guards was unknown”:

“‘This is a troubling case, “Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote. “Garcia was duped into providing an artistic performance that was used in a way she never could have foreseen.’ Garcia sued after she discovered she was in the video, after efforts to persuade Google to take it down… were repeatedly rebuffed”:

“Leaders of the liberal Rally for Culture and Democracy, the Islamist Ennahda Party, and the Movement of Society for Peace said Monday that the April 17 election should be boycotted because of the danger it represents to the country …[after] Algeria’s ailing president … [said] he would run for a fourth term”:

Accusing “political enemies of hacking encrypted state communications to fake a phone conversation suggesting he warned his son to hide large sums of money before police raids in a graft inquiry that reached into government, … Tayyip Erdogan described it as a shameless and treacherous ‘montage” …

… and “Turkey’s president … approved a controversial bill limiting the independence of the judiciary — a law that is widely interpreted as a government response to corruption allegations … [against] Erdogan”:

A senior Pakistani government official … said the government would prefer a negotiated settlement with the Taliban but … if ‘the negotiations … do not follow the trajectory that has been planned’ … there will be … an offensive” against the Haqqani network “coordinated with U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan“:

News and Analysis (2/24/14)

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Hazem El-Beblawi who “was appointed after the army toppled president Mohamed Mursi last July” announced today that “the cabinet took a decision to offer its resignation to the president of the republic,” but “gave no clear reason for the decision” …

… as yet another capital charge is leveled against Mohammed Morsi “as part of a crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood group after the military deposed him last summer …

…while  “one of the defense lawyers said the glass enclosure should either be removed or the defendants should be given a sign language expert — and time to learn sign language — before proceedings continue so they can communicate … as the law requires they be allowed to do. The three-judge panel” refused …

… and the new head of the Constitution Party, “a 59-year-old Coptic Christian, says the military-backed authorities have little tolerance for dissent,criticizing their security crackdown that brought mass detentions and trials over the past months. ‘The road map to democracy is being compromised”:

“Lord Macdonald of River Glaven QC, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, said he warned Home Secretary Theresa May that Mr Yazdi’s life was in danger before his abduction” but “could not get an appointment …. and said she should now explain why Mr Yazdi’s private information was passed to Iran”:

The man who escaped life imprisonment in the US “for his slaying and dismemberment of 19-year-old Alfredo Enrique Tello Jr.” by successfully seeking “refuge from extradition, enraging Maryland authorities and briefly threatening U.S. aid to the Jewish state” turns against those who sheltered him:

“Rock, rap and most forms of pop music are banned in Iran, because the government there believes it pollutes young minds and lead them to an un-Islamic world. Women are not allowed to sing in public and all published music must be approved by officials in Tehran” …

… but in Britain”I get my ambition from my parents, who came to this country from Sri Lanka with nothing and both worked multiple jobs to make a good life for themselves and their family. And my faith and my British identity is why I’m doing this particular business. I’m just mixing the two”:

“Since the offensive began on Feb. 10, more than 10,000 refugees have sought refuge in Arsal from the fighting in the strategically important Qalamoun region”:

“A Syrian rebel commander who fought alongside al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and was close to its current chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was killed by a suicide attack on Sunday, intensifying infighting between rival Islamist fighters”:

“Efforts at a swap are … seen as a concession to Karzai. Washington would like to see him back away from his refusal to sign a security pact that is necessary for the U.S. to leave a residual force behind in Afghanistan. Karzai says he wants Washington to push reconciliation … forward”:

Sign a peace treaty, get arrested. “The authorities said Tundok had outstanding warrants of arrest for various criminal offences, including arson, although members of the MILF’s peace panel said he had been actively helping out in the peace process and was supposed to be covered by an immunity guarantee”:

Due to “violence or blockades … voting did not take place in 81 polling centres, with the result that altogether 13 seats on the Committee cannot be declared”:

News and Analysis (2/22/14)

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

“Rights groups say courts have failed to hold police accountable for the deaths of over 840 protesters during the 18-day uprising.” Egypt’s military is just as eager to acquit its murderous minions …

… as it is to prosecute its elected leaders and peaceful demonstrators:

“[W]e disagree with that conclusion of the New Jersey district court” – Arthur Eisenberg, legal director of the NY ACLU …

… while in Turkey, laws are proposed to allow its “National Intelligence Agency greater eavesdropping and operational rights and access to personal data without court orders. Journalists publishing leaked documents would face jail terms. The agency would not be prosecuted” without permission of the PM:

The US may begin to ease its strident rhetoric against Iran … after a senior Iranian diplomat” complained that recent US statements, “especially those portraying Iran as the loser in an interim agreement signed in Geneva in November, was making it difficult to ‘convince’ Iranians it was a win-win deal”:

“A resolution … to add the interrogations ban to the agenda of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) legislative body received the support of 53% of representatives to the group’s biannual convention. That didn’t clear the two-thirds threshold required to add the proposed ban to the agenda”:

“Laws restricting alcohol sales, strip clubs, pornography stores, prostitution, blasphemy and consensual sexual behavior, as well as laws that treat women differently from men, are familiar in American history.” When unconstitutional “they are struck down”, but when not, “they are simply democracy in action”:

“Weapons meant for the Somali army could have been used by the militants in Friday’s attack. A confidential report by the UN … said this month that … [i]n at least one case weapons were sold by a military commander directly to an al-Shabaab commander”:

As Syrian troops make advances into rebel-held territory, the refugees continue to languish and the UN loses patience with both sides’ failure to cooperate on humanitarian aid, and the Asad regime tussles over how much time is needed after missing the deadline to remove its chemical weapons:

“The Dubai meetings are the first, fresh Afghan-initiated efforts to restart peace talks aimed at bringing a negotiated end to the conflict ahead of the final withdrawal of international combat troops due at the end of this year. But they also reflect deepening divisions among Taliban leadership”:

The UAE fatwa committee’s concern that a one-way trip to Mars is an act of suicide, has “irked some Muslim scholars” and the NGO organizing the mission  asks that the fatwa be cancelled and argues that only once the “outpost is established will human lives be risked”:


News and Analysis (2/20/14)

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Some defendants say “they had not been told by Egyptian officials when their trial would start, and not given enough time with their lawyers to prepare or study the evidence against them” and one adds that a although fine physically, “he faced ‘psychologically unbearable’ conditions”:

Iran’s economic goals include “production and export of knowledge-based products”, “domestic production of strategic goods and” development of neighboring markets”, and “privatization and exports of electricity, gas, petrochemical and oil by-products instead of crude oil and other raw materials” …

… while in Egypt, the regime will give police a 30% pay increase so they will continue to repress rather than  join  other workers in their protests:

Seemingly concerned about unintended consequences of the push to overthrow the Asad regime,  the new Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says, “[E]xtremists are actively trying to recruit Westerners, indoctrinate them and see them return to their home countries with an extremist mission” …

… so there’s no wonder that “Obama remains wary of any direct U.S. involvement in the three-year-old civil war”:

The author of The French Intifada says that although Muslim militants in France are united in their “hatred of Jews as a cipher for the French state”, it is the indigenous French for whom “anti-Semitism is a fundamental part of French history and culture in a very damaging way”:

Against government claims to “winning the war” are charges that insurgents are “‘better armed and better motivated’ than the security forces” and “the army has at times taken hours to respond to attacks, allowing the militants to kill, destroy homes, schools and mosques, and loot before retreating”:

Mix an extreme understanding of Islam imported from Saudi Arabia with “the anger of Muslim youth who grew up without job opportunities during Kenya’s war on Islamic extremists, a war that has included alleged torture, disappearances, and assassinations of Muslims, and the situation looks volatile”:

“This sectarian division only deepens inequalities in employment opportunities. Divide-and-rule in the labor market is unacceptable and not appropriate” — Meretz MK Esawi Frej …

… meanwhile, “resettlement of people in Uganda, and perhaps other countries, marks a new phase in Israel’s campaign to rid itself of thousands of Africans who have poured into the country in recent years”:

“Violence broke out after Christian fighters tried to halt the evacuation of Muslims from a camp near the airport”:

“The ringleader of a group of US soldiers who raped an Iraqi girl and murdered her and her family has been found dead in an apparent suicide”:

News and Analysis (2/17/14)

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Why is “a notorious Muslim-basher and conspiracy theorist … who …  claims that the director of the Central Intelligence Agency is a secret Muslim agent for the Saudi government and says that American Muslims ‘do not have a First Amendment right to do anything'” now training law officers?

Do  American objections to a pending trade deal between Russia and Iran provide evidence that Khamenei’s pessimism is justified? …

… and will Iran invade Pakistan over seized border guards being held as ransom to exchange for “300 Sunni prisoners in Iran and its close ally Syria”:

As in a Potemkin Village, the prayer rooms provided to the visiting Muslim athletes less “a symbol of tolerance … [than] a blatant effort to quell dissidence within the Olympic Village, while simultaneously, denying the rights of Sochi’s Muslim residents to practice their faith”:

Calmly professing his innocence, philanthropist Abd al-Wahhab al-Humayqani says, “I don’t have any objections to going on trial here in Yemen to defend myself against any charges — even if it’s from the American Treasury”, but he’d rather be giving advice on how to defeat the terrorists:

“Conservatives in the law-making body had already quashed an earlier effort to water down the legislation, which would have barred forcing relatives to testify rather than any family testimony. The same block could potentially oppose the new changes” …

… meanwhile, a newlywed bride with little sex education turns a Prophetic hadith into a basis for “open communication” that leads to mutual fulfillment:

“Australians offered the intercepts to their allies at the US National Security Agency…. The Australians said that ‘information covered by attorney-client privilege may be included’ in the intelligence they offered to share with the NSA”:

“Hamas has sought to maintain an image of zero-tolerance in the face of corruption, even among senior officials”:

“Turkey’s parliament passed a law giving the government more control over the body which appoints senior members of the judiciary. The issue has divided the ruling party and the main opposition party, and brought politicians to blows”:

The free Syrian army has acknowledged the ineffectiveness of its central command, but the U.S. and Russia blame one another for the stalled peace talks:

It’s not much, but desperate for any good news from Libya, we’ll settle for this:

News and Analysis (2/14/14)

Friday, February 14th, 2014

With rebels and government both engaged in what the UN’s humanitarian chief Valerie Amos calls flagrant violations of humanitarian law, negotiator Brahimi is increasingly concerned; the U.S. and Russia will use their influence, but what about Iran and the Arab Gulf states?

Egypt’s prosecutor general ordered an inquiry into a complaint accusing the country’s top satirist Bassem Youssef for mocking the military and its top commander”  after Youssef ridiculed the nationalist fervor that gripped Egyptians after the military ouster of Morsi and the … euphoria surrounding el-Sissi”:

“Gaza’s economy has been devastated by Egypt’s crackdown on smuggling tunnels that provided 50 percent of the territory’s commercial goods” …

… but the Egyptian regime hurts its own economy as well. “This year, the government will spend $14.5 billion on energy subsidies alone, says Yasser Sobhi, chief of macro-fiscal policy in Egypt’s Ministry of Finance. He says the pressure is growing to reduce this burden, which mostly benefits wealthy Egyptians”:

“The Americans wish to solve the Palestinian problem at Jordanian expense, and if that happens, if the government gives in to the demands of the United States, this will threaten the regime” –Hamza Mansour, secretary general of the Islamic Action Front:

“Judge Timothy Pontius admitted the order [taking away the convicted vigilantes’ right to peacefully express their views for five years] was ‘drastic’”  but insisted it was essential for “the safety of individual members of the public”:

Fed up with U.S. infringements on Afghan sovereignty, Karzai not only frees 65 prisoners the U.S> calls dangerous, but even in announcing his agreement to sign a security agreement with the U.S. thumbs his nose at his overbearing ally by first breaking the news to the German first minister”:

“While Denmark’s 6,000 Jews currently do not practice shechita, instead importing kosher meat from abroad, the ruling does affect the country’s Muslim minority”:

“Sunni Islamist insurgents took over much of a northern Iraqi town on Thursday and laid siege to its town hall, weeks after militants seized a whole city from the country’s Shi’ite-led government”:

“This new site offers a place to go if you really want to laugh about what’s going on in the Muslim world — from the Middle East to deep in America. It’s a delightful garlicy dip of truth and wackiness”:

News and Analysis (2/12/14)

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

After arresting a U.S. embassy “employee who arranged meetings between visiting American government officials and Muslim Brotherhood deputy head Khairat el-Shater” …

… the next victim in the sights of the junta is the free market, as the regime seeks to wipe out the enterprises that are providing efficient low-cost transportation to the people of Egypt:

“[A] senior Iranian diplomat … suggests a comprehensive agreement could be reached within six months despite opposition from Israeli leaders and Republicans in the US Congress. ‘There are definitely solutions for all the questions regarding Iran’s nuclear programme if there is the political will to address them'”:

“According to the state-owned daily Al-Ahram, el-Sissi is to conclude a $2 billion arms deal funded mainly by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Gen. Hossam Sweilam, a retired Egyptian army general who maintains close contact with the military, also said the deal would be finalized in Moscow”:

“Security sources said the arrest of Naim Abbas, who confessed to his organizational role, helped uncover two booby-trapped cars, two weapons depots and led to the arrest of several jihadi-linked people”:

Under Islamic law a woman becomes an adult on onset of menses, but under Australian law, the age of majority begins at 18. The following article reports the opinions of the groom, the father, the religious authorities, and the state, but ignores the bride’s opinions  as if she is not even human:

“Hundreds of Islamic extremists posing as soldiers attacked a northeast Nigerian town for hours, killing 39 people and razing a mosque and more than 1,000 homes…. In the ruins of the burned-out mosque, bodies covered in cloth lay ready for burial…, including three small shrouds covering children”:

A mourner for a Christian murdered by Muslim screams out a promise of genocide …

… but the “ethnic cleansing” is already underway according to Amnesty International and is condemned by the CAR’s new president …

… and one of its consequences is that without its Muslim merchants the country is spiraling into an economic disaster:

News and Analysis (2/10/14)

Monday, February 10th, 2014

“The new powers, once approved by the president, will let authorities block web pages within hours, in what the opposition has said is part of a government bid to stifle discussion of a corruption scandal”

An IAEA statement Sunday said Iran had complied with the first steps of that deal and both sides on the weekend signed off on an additional “seven practical measures” to be implemented by Iran by May 15. The Islamic Republic’s official IRNA news agency said Iran will provide information on mines, facilities and source materials of nuclear and laser activities”:

“Speaker after speaker stood up to berate Damascus at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons …, until it came to Russia’s turn…. Russia defended President Bashar al-Assad and said his government needed more time to ship the chemicals safely through territory where it is fighting rebels” …

… as peace talks resume with no optimism …

… and “[r]elief convoys carrying humanitarian aid into a besieged rebel-held area of the central Syrian city of Homs came under fire for a second consecutive day on Sunday despite an appeal by the UN to government and rebel forces to respect a ceasefire, which is due to expire on Monday”:

Two can play at the “big stick” game. Fars said the plan was part of “Iran’s response to Washington’s beefed up naval presence in the Persian Gulf”:

“Egypt’s interior ministry said on Sunday it had broken up a ‘military wing’ of the Muslim Brotherhood, allegedly formed to attack policemen…. The Brotherhood …said it rejected violence decades ago and believes in peaceful protest against the new, military-installed government:

“Afghanistan has improved voting procedures to ensure April’s presidential election is not plagued by the complaints of irregularities and fraud that marred the last vote in 2009, a senior official said”, but he did worry that violence could disrupt the voting in [the country’s] first democratic leadership transition”:

“The change now allows officials to consider whether the support was not only limited but potentially part of ‘routine commercial transactions or routine social transactions’. The change does not specifically address ‘freedom fighters'” leaders of Arab Spring uprisings:

USAID announces “three new development initiatives worth almost $300 million is part of a U.S. effort to ensure that Afghanistan, as its ‘war economy’ ends, won’t slide backwards into greater poverty or reverse gains made over the last 12 years in health, education and other areas”:

There are plenty of sound reason to oppose foreign aid, but Rand Paul joins the “Muslim witch hunt” up to which his more courageous father stood by engaging in “the ugliest type of neoconservative fear-mongering: Muslim-baiting”: