Saudi-Led International Coalition's Military Operation in Yemen

[Everything you wanted to know about #Saudi-led international coalition's military operation in #Yemen but were afraid to ask.]

Two years ago Riyadh-led coalition started carrying out airstrikes in Yemen against the rebels from Houthi movement, known as Ansar Allah (Supporters of God) at the request of Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi as part of its Operation Decisive Storm.

The Houthi movement, operating in Yemen since 1994, is an armed Shiite organization that had initially controlled a small area in northern Yemen. The movement's leader, Abdul-Malik Houthi, staged an anti-government rebellion in Yemen in 2004.

Supporters of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh who stepped down in 2011 at the height of the Arab Spring in exchange for immunity from political harassment and legal prosecution have sided with Houthi rebels, while army units, loyal to Hadi, and Sunni volunteers from local tribes opposed the rebels.

In February 2010, the Yemeni government and Shiite rebels signed a ceasefire agreement.

In mid-August 2014, Houthi-organized protests flared up in Yemen, and they escalated into clashes with security forces one month later.

After several unsuccessful attempts to launch dialogue with Hadi’s regime, in early 2015 the Houthis launched an all-out attack on major Yemeni cities, including the country’s capital of Sanaa and seized most of the country. Hadi was virtually ousted from power and fled from Sanaa to Aden where he set up his temporary residence. Later he was forced out of the country.

On March 22, 2015, the UN Security Council confirmed the legitimacy of Hadi's presidency and condemned the Houthis' actions. Later in the day, the Houthis established control over Yemen’s third largest city of Taiz and in early April, they entered Aden.

Saudi Arabia announced on March 23, 2015, that Persian Gulf states would act to defend the region from Houthi aggression. The initiative was supported by the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, Sudan and Pakistan.

On March 26, 2015, the international coalition launched the Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen, carrying out airstrikes against the Houthis at Hadi's request. The coalition’s air force started bombing Sanaa, targeting Houthi-controlled air force, air defense installations, the international airport and residential areas. Coalition forces also attacked Houthi units, their camps, military equipment and the infrastructure in Yemen.

On April 21, 2015, the coalition sources announced the successful completion of the Operation Decisive Storm and the shift to the political-military Operation Renewal of Hope. It was announced that the Houthi threat to Saudi Arabia and its neighbors had been eliminated, that ballistic missiles seized by the rebels had been destroyed, and that the new campaign would aim to resume the political process, combat terrorism and counter Houthi military activity.

A fragile truce ended in mid-May, 2015, and the coalition launched new air strikes against Houthi positions.

In June, an attempt to launch indirect UN-mediated intra-Yemeni talks failed in Geneva.

By mid-July, forces, loyal to the legitimate authorities and supported by coalition land units, had retaken Aden and several strategically important southern areas. Hadi returned to Yemen and proclaimed Aden the country’s "temporary capital."

Apart from Saudi Arabia that leads the ten-country coalition, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) contributed 1,000 soldiers each and Bahrain sent about 500 servicemen to ground operations.

In September 2015, media reported the deployment of 800 soldiers from Egypt. However, Cairo denied these claims. Nevertheless, Egypt was indeed involved in a naval blockade of Yemen. Other countries confined themselves to airstrikes and logistics support.

Faced with the coalition’s onslaught and losing the southern sector of the capital, the Houthis and Saleh agreed to begin talks under a plan approved by the United Nations calling for a complete ceasefire, the withdrawal of the rebel units from cities and the establishment of a national-unity government. Yemeni authorities refused to negotiate.

In late September, 2015, the Houthis carried out an successful attack in south of Sanaa and also attacked Saudi forces on the border with Saudi Arabia. In November, 400 Sudanese soldiers reinforced coalition forces operating in the Taiz province. According to some estimates, 10,000 service personnel were deployed on the ground.
On December 15, 2015, direct UN-mediated intra-Yemeni talks began in Geneva. At the same time, a seven-day truce was declared in Yemen, although fighting continued in the Al Jawf, Hajjah and Taiz governorates. The coalition advanced on Sanaa once again, with the Houthis retaliating by firing ballistic missiles against Saudi Arabia.

On December 20, 2015, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed announced an end to the talks. Participants had only been able to coordinate prisoner exchanges and the delivery of humanitarian relief aid.

In late December, the intra-Yemeni dialogue had virtually failed, with UN representatives noting that the coalition strikes against residential areas in Yemen violated international humanitarian law. The disastrous health situation deteriorated even more after the coalition air force destroyed two hospitals belonging to the Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) humanitarian medical organization.

According to UN sources, almost 9,000 people were killed in Yemen over a period of one year, including over 3,000 civilians. Coalition forces were responsible for 50 percent of the fatalities.

Civilians make up to 95 percent of fatalities during attacks on densely populated areas.

Almost 2.5 million Yemenis fled their homes due to hostilities.

Contrary to a decision to continue the intra-Yemeni talks in mid-January 2016, the UN special envoy was only able to resume preliminary consultations in February, noting several days later that the parties were unable to come to an agreement on the terms of the dialogue’s new round.

In mid-March, 2016 it was suggested that the talks take place in Kuwait or Jordan, but no date was fixed.

In this context, forces, loyal to Hadi, retook Taiz. The head of state announced that the army still had to liberate 15 percent of the country’s territory and the coalition air force continued to attack rebel-held areas.

On March 17, a Saudi Arabian spokesperson announced a gradual drawdown of the coalition’s military operations in Yemen, noting that the coalition would continue to provide air support to Yemeni forces.

This statement came after coalition warplanes hit a marketplace three times in Mustaba District of Yemen’s Hajjah province. The air strikes killed 119 people and wounded 47 more, said a spokesperson for the healthcare directorate.

On March 21, 2016,Ould Cheikh Ahmed said that the parties to the Yemeni conflict had agreed to hold a new round of talks in Kuwait and had confirmed their readiness to set up a national unity government.

The media announced March 28 that the Houthis and Saudi Arabia had exchanged prisoners. A total of 100 Houthi rebels were swapped for nine Saudi Arabian prisoners.

A ceasefire agreement entered into force at midnight April 10, 2016. However, fighting continued in some parts of the country.

The United Nations brokered another round of peace talks in Kuwait that started on April 21. The talks almost failed several times because their participants accused each other of violating the ceasefire agreement.

During the talks, the government of Yemen and its Houthi opponents agreed to exchange prisoners in the run-up to the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

On June 1, the media reported that Houthi rebels released 16 prisoners from the Abu Al-Abbas people’s militia unit seized in the Taiz province in central Yemen, in exchange for 19 of their supporters.

The parties to the Yemeni conflict also agreed to release all children who had been imprisoned.

On June 7, the media reported that the Saudi Arabian-led coalition had transferred 52 teenagers who had sided with Houthi rebels fighting government forces to the Government of Yemen.

On June 15, 2016, the UAE announced the withdrawal of the country’s servicemen from the Saudi Arabian-led Arab coalition’s operation against the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

On June 18, the parties to the Yemeni conflict exchanged prisoners near the city of Taiz in southwestern Yemen, under the mediation of local tribes. The parties exchanged about 200 people, namely, the Arab coalition released 118 people, while Houthi rebels freed another 76. According to the UAE media, this deal had nothing to do with the result of the intra-Yemeni peace talks in Kuwait.

Although intra-Yemeni talks continued for 70 days, the parties failed to reach any specific agreement, despite the UN special envoy’s attempts to persuade them to approve a road map stipulating the abolition of previously adopted decisions on running the country by Houthi rebels who had seized power. On June 29, 2016, Ould Cheikh Ahmed said that the intra-Yemeni talks had been put off until the end of the celebrations marking the end of Ramadan.

Talks between the Yemeni government delegation and that of the Houthi movement opposing it resumed in Kuwait July 16, 2016.

On July 31, 2016, Hadi approved the UN-backed draft agreement on resolving the Yemeni crisis. The agreement, proposed by Ould Cheikh Ahmed, urges Houthi rebels and forces, loyal to Saleh, to lay down their weapons. The document also calls for withdrawing rebel units from Sanaa and the cities of Taiz and Al Hudaydah and establishing a military committee responsible for surrendering weapons and withdrawing insurgents from the cities. A political dialogue was set to resume 45 days after signing the draft agreement by the parties.

Hadi instructed the government delegation at the talks in Kuwait to sign the draft agreement. In turn, the government delegation officially notified the UN special envoy that it would approve the document, provided that the rebels signed it by August 7.

This round of peace talks ended August 6, with the parties failing to reach any agreement and fighting involving the Saudi Arabian-led coalition soon resumed in the country.

On October 24, 2016, the media reported that Ould Cheikh Ahmed had officially submitted a plan backed by the United Nations for comprehensively resolving the national crisis to the Yemeni government delegation and that of the Houthi rebels.

The new UN plan stipulated a number of mutual concessions. The Houthis were expected to withdraw from the capital. In response, Vice President Ali Mohsen Ahmar was supposed to resign, and Hadi’s powers were to have been seriously curtailed.

The parties to the Yemeni conflict rejected this plan.

Despite his numerous efforts, Ould Cheikh Ahmed has so far failed to persuade the warring parties to sit down at the negotiating table after three abortive rounds of talks have not helped resolve the Yemeni armed conflict sputtering on for almost two years.

As of October 2016, almost 10,000 people had been killed in Yemen, according to UN estimates. The total of 21.2 million Yemeni citizens, which is 80 percent of the country’s population, are in need of urgent assistance, while another 14 million are malnourished, and seven million are on the verge of dying from starvation. There are over three million internally displaced people, as well as over 300,000 refugees.

Most Yemenis are unable to drink clean water and use the sanitary infrastructure. The national healthcare system has been virtually paralyzed due to the destruction of the appropriate infrastructure by air strikes and a shortage of medication and other preparations. Since 2015, 10,000 children have died due to a shortage of medical services. More and more Yemenis are affected by grave diseases such as cholera, acute forms of pneumonia and measles.

Wahhabism to ISIS: how Saudi Arabia exported the main source of global terrorism

Although IS is certainly an Islamic movement, it is neither typical nor mired in the distant past, because its roots are in Wahhabism, a form of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia that developed only in the 18th century.


As the so-called Islamic State demolishes nation states set up by the Europeans almost a century ago, IS’s obscene savagery seems to epitomise the violence that many believe to be inherent in religion in general and Islam in particular. It also suggests that the neoconservative ideology that inspired the Iraq war was delusory, since it assumed that the liberal nation state was an inevitable outcome of modernity and that, once Saddam’s dictatorship had gone, Iraq could not fail to become a western-style democracy. Instead, IS, which was born in the Iraq war and is intent on restoring the premodern autocracy of the caliphate, seems to be reverting to barbarism. On 16 November, the militants released a video showing that they had beheaded a fifth western hostage, the American aid worker Peter Kassig, as well as several captured Syrian soldiers. Some will see the group’s ferocious irredentism as proof of Islam’s chronic inability to embrace modern values.

Yet although IS is certainly an Islamic movement, it is neither typical nor mired in the distant past, because its roots are in Wahhabism, a form of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia that developed only in the 18th century. In July 2013, the European Parliament identified Wahhabism as the main source of global terrorism, and yet the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, condemning IS in the strongest terms, has insisted that “the ideas of extremism, radicalism and terrorism do not belong to Islam in any way”. Other members of the Saudi ruling class, however, look more kindly on the movement, applauding its staunch opposition to Shiaism and for its Salafi piety, its adherence to the original practices of Islam. This inconsistency is a salutary reminder of the impossibility of making accurate generalisations about any religious tradition. In its short history, Wahhabism has developed at least two distinct forms, each of which has a wholly different take on violence.

During the 18th century, revivalist movements sprang up in many parts of the Islamic world as the Muslim imperial powers began to lose control of peripheral territories. In the west at this time, we were beginning to separate church from state, but this secular ideal was a radical innovation: as revolutionary as the commercial economy that Europe was concurrently devising. No other culture regarded religion as a purely private activity, separate from such worldly pursuits as politics, so for Muslims the political fragmentation of their society was also a religious problem. Because the Quran had given them a sacred mission – to build a just economy in which everybody was treated with equity and respect – the political well-being of the umma (“community”) was always a matter of sacred import. If the poor were oppressed, the vulnerable exploited or state institutions corrupt, Muslims were obliged to make every effort to put society back on track.

So the 18th-century reformers were convinced that if Muslims were to regain lost power and prestige, they must return to the fundamentals of their faith, ensuring that God – rather than materialism or worldly ambition – dominated the political order. There was nothing militant about this “fundamentalism”; rather, it was a grass-roots attempt to reorient society and did not involve jihad. One of the most influential of these revivalists was Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-91), a learned scholar of Najd in central Arabia, whose teachings still inspire Muslim reformers and extremists today. He was especially concerned about the popular cult of saints and the idolatrous rituals at their tombs, which, he believed, attributed divinity to mere mortals. He insisted that every single man and woman should concentrate instead on the study of the Quran and the “traditions” (hadith) about the customary practice (Sunnah) of the Prophet and his companions. Like Luther, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab wanted to return to the earliest teachings of his faith and eject all later medieval accretions. He therefore opposed Sufism and Shiaism as heretical innovations (bidah), and he urged all Muslims to reject the learned exegesis developed over the centuries by the ulema (“scholars”) and interpret the texts for themselves.

This naturally incensed the clergy and threatened local rulers, who believed that interfering with these popular devotions would cause social unrest. Eventually, however, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab found a patron in Muhammad Ibn Saud, a chieftain of Najd who adopted his ideas. But tension soon developed between the two because Ibn Abd al-Wahhab refused to endorse Ibn Saud’s military campaigns for plunder and territory, insisting that jihad could not be waged for personal profit but was permissible only when the umma was attacked militarily. He also forbade the Arab custom of killing prisoners of war, the deliberate destruction of property and the slaughter of civilians, including women and children. Nor did he ever claim that those who fell in battle were martyrs who would be rewarded with a high place in heaven, because a desire for such self-aggrandisement was incompatible with jihad. Two forms of Wahhabism were emerging: where Ibn Saud was happy to enforce Wahhabi Islam with the sword to enhance his political position, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab insisted that education, study and debate were the only legitimate means of spreading the one true faith.

Yet although scripture was so central to Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s ideology, by insisting that his version of Islam alone had validity, he had distorted the Quranic message. The Quran firmly stated that “There must be no coercion in matters of faith” (2:256), ruled that Muslims must believe in the revelations of all the great prophets (3:84) and that religious pluralism was God’s will (5:48). Muslims had, therefore, been traditionally wary of takfir, the practice of declaring a fellow Muslim to be an unbeliever (kafir). Hitherto Sufism, which had developed an outstanding appreciation of other faith traditions, had been the most popular form of Islam and had played an important role in both social and religious life. “Do not praise your own faith so exclusively that you disbelieve all the rest,” urged the great mystic Ibn al-Arabi (d.1240). “God the omniscient and omnipresent cannot be confined to any one creed.” It was common for a Sufi to claim that he was a neither a Jew nor a Christian, nor even a Muslim, because once you glimpsed the divine, you left these man-made distinctions behind.

Despite his rejection of other forms of Islam, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab himself refrained from takfir, arguing that God alone could read the heart, but after his death Wahhabis cast this inhibition aside and the generous pluralism of Sufism became increasingly suspect in the Muslim world.

After his death, too, Wahhabism became more violent, an instrument of state terror. As he sought to establish an independent kingdom, Abd al-Aziz Ibn Muhammad, Ibn Saud’s son and successor, used takfir to justify the wholesale slaughter of resistant populations. In 1801, his army sacked the holy Shia city of Karbala in what is now Iraq, plundered the tomb of Imam Husain, and slaughtered thousands of Shias, including women and children; in 1803, in fear and panic, the holy city of Mecca surrendered to the Saudi leader.

Eventually, in 1815, the Ottomans despatched Muhammad Ali Pasha, governor of Egypt, to crush the Wahhabi forces and destroy their capital. But Wahhabism became a political force once again during the First World War when the Saudi chieftain – another Abd al-Aziz – made a new push for statehood and began to carve out a large kingdom for himself in the Middle East with his devout Bedouin army, known as the Ikhwan, the “Brotherhood”.

In the Ikhwan we see the roots of IS. To break up the tribes and wean them from the nomadic life, which was deemed incompatible with Islam, the Wahhabi clergy had settled the Bedouin in oases, where they learned farming and the crafts of sedentary life and were indoctrinated in Wahhabi Islam. Once they exchanged the time-honoured ghazu raid, which typically resulted in the plunder of livestock, for the jihad, these Bedouin fighters became more violent and extreme, covering their faces when they encountered Europeans and non-Saudi Arabs and fighting with lances and swords because they disdained weaponry not used by the Prophet. In the old ghazu raids, the Bedouin had always kept casualties to a minimum and did not attack non-combatants. Now the Ikhwan routinely massacred “apostate” unarmed villagers in their thousands, thought nothing of slaughtering women and children, and routinely slit the throats of all male captives.

In 1915, Abd al-Aziz planned to conquer the Hijaz (an area in the west of present-day Saudi Arabia that includes the cities of Mecca and Medina), the Persian Gulf to the east of Najd, and the land that is now Syria and Jordan in the north, but during the 1920s he tempered his ambitions in order to acquire diplomatic standing as a nation state with Britain and the United States. The Ikhwan, however, continued to raid the British protectorates of Iraq, Transjordan and Kuwait, insisting that no limits could be placed on jihad. Regarding all modernisation as bidah, the Ikhwan also attacked Abd al-Aziz for permitting telephones, cars, the telegraph, music and smoking – indeed, anything unknown in Muhammad’s time – until finally Abd al-Aziz quashed their rebellion in 1930.

After the defeat of the Ikhwan, the official Wahhabism of the Saudi kingdom abandoned militant jihad and became a religiously conservative movement, similar to the original movement in the time of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, except that takfir was now an accepted practice and, indeed, essential to the Wahhabi faith. Henceforth there would always be tension between the ruling Saudi establishment and more radical Wahhabis. The Ikhwan spirit and its dream of territorial expansion did not die, but gained new ground in the 1970s, when the kingdom became central to western foreign policy in the region. Washington welcomed the Saudis’ opposition to Nasserism (the pan-Arab socialist ideology of Egypt’s second president, Gamal Abdel Nasser) and to Soviet influence. After the Iranian Revolution, it gave tacit support to the Saudis’ project of countering Shia radicalism by Wahhabising the entire Muslim world.

The soaring oil price created by the 1973 embargo – when Arab petroleum producers cut off supplies to the US to protest against the Americans’ military support for Israel – gave the kingdom all the petrodollars it needed to export its idiosyncratic form of Islam. The old military jihad to spread the faith was now replaced by a cultural offensive. The Saudi-based Muslim World League opened offices in every region inhabited by Muslims, and the Saudi ministry of religion printed and distributed Wahhabi translations of the Quran, Wahhabi doctrinal texts and the writings of modern thinkers whom the Saudis found congenial, such as Sayyids Abul-A’la Maududi and Qutb, to Muslim communities throughout the Middle East, Africa, Indonesia, the United States and Europe. In all these places, they funded the building of Saudi-style mosques with Wahhabi preachers and established madrasas that provided free education for the poor, with, of course, a Wahhabi curriculum. At the same time, young men from the poorer Muslim countries, such as Egypt and Pakistan, who had felt compelled to find work in the Gulf to support their families, associated their relative affluence with Wahhabism and brought this faith back home with them, living in new neighbourhoods with Saudi mosques and shopping malls that segregated the sexes. The Saudis demanded religious conformity in return for their munificence, so Wahhabi rejection of all other forms of Islam as well as other faiths would reach as deeply into Bradford, England, and Buffalo, New York, as into Pakistan, Jordan or Syria: everywhere gravely undermining Islam’s traditional pluralism.

A whole generation of Muslims, therefore, has grown up with a maverick form of Islam that has given them a negative view of other faiths and an intolerantly sectarian understanding of their own. While not extremist per se, this is an outlook in which radicalism can develop. In the past, the learned exegesis of the ulema, which Wahhabis rejected, had held extremist interpretations of scripture in check; but now unqualified freelancers such as Osama Bin Laden were free to develop highly unorthodox readings of the Quran. To prevent the spread of radicalism, the Saudis tried to deflect their young from the internal problems of the kingdom during the 1980s by encouraging a pan-Islamist sentiment of which the Wahhabi ulema did not approve.

Where Islamists in such countries as Egypt fought tyranny and corruption at home, Saudi Islamists focused on the humiliation and oppression of Muslims worldwide. Television brought images of Muslim suffering in Palestine or Lebanon into comfortable Saudi homes. The gov­ernment also encouraged young men to join the steady stream of recruits from the Arab world who were joining the Afghans’ jihad against the Soviet Union. The response of these militants may throw light on the motivation of those joining the jihad in Syria and Iraq today.

A survey of those Saudi men who volunteered for Afghanistan and who later fought in Bosnia and Chechnya or trained in al-Qaeda camps has found that most were motivated not by hatred of the west but by the desire to help their Muslim brothers and sisters – in rather the same way as men from all over Europe left home in 1938 to fight the Fascists in Spain, and as Jews from all over the diaspora hastened to Israel at the beginning of the Six Day War in 1967. The welfare of the umma had always been a spiritual as well as a political concern in Islam, so the desperate plight of their fellow Muslims cut to the core of their religious identity. This pan-Islamist emphasis was also central to Bin Laden’s propaganda, and the martyr-videos of the Saudis who took part in the 9/11 atrocity show that they were influenced less by Wahhabism than by the pain and humiliation of the umma as a whole.

Like the Ikhwan, IS represents a rebellion against the official Wahhabism of modern Saudi Arabia. Its swords, covered faces and cut-throat executions all recall the original Brotherhood. But it is unlikely that the IS hordes consist entirely of diehard jihadists. A substantial number are probably secularists who resent the status quo in Iraq: Ba’athists from Saddam Hussein’s regime and former soldiers of his disbanded army. This would explain IS’s strong performance against professional military forces. In all likelihood, few of the young recruits are motivated either by Wahhabism or by more traditional Muslim ideals. In 2008, MI5’s behavioural science unit noted that, “far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could . . . be regarded as religious novices.” A significant proportion of those convicted of terrorism offences since the 9/11 attacks have been non-observant, or are self-taught, or, like the gunman in the recent attack on the Canadian parliament, are converts to Islam. They may claim to be acting in the name of Islam, but when an untalented beginner tells us that he is playing a Beethoven sonata, we hear only cacophony. Two wannabe jihadists who set out from Birmingham for Syria last May had ordered Islam for Dummies from Amazon.

It would be a mistake to see IS as a throwback; it is, as the British philosopher John Gray has argued, a thoroughly modern movement that has become an efficient, self-financing business with assets estimated at $2bn. Its looting, theft of gold bullion from banks, kidnapping, siphoning of oil in the conquered territories and extortion have made it the wealthiest jihadist group in the world. There is nothing random or irrational about IS violence. The execution videos are carefully and strategically planned to inspire terror, deter dissent and sow chaos in the greater population.

Mass killing is a thoroughly modern phenomenon. During the French Revolution, which led to the emergence of the first secular state in Europe, the Jacobins publicly beheaded about 17,000 men, women and children. In the First World War, the Young Turks slaughtered over a million Armenians, including women, children and the elderly, to create a pure Turkic nation. The Soviet Bolsheviks, the Khmer Rouge and the Red Guard all used systematic terrorism to purge humanity of corruption. Similarly, IS uses violence to achieve a single, limited and clearly defined objective that would be impossible without such slaughter. As such, it is another expression of the dark side of modernity.

In 1922, as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk rose to power, he completed the Young Turks’ racial purge by forcibly deporting all Greek-speaking Christians from Turkey; in 1925 he declared null and void the caliphate that IS has vowed to reinstate. The caliphate had long been a dead letter politically, but because it symbolised the unity of the umma and its link with the Prophet, Sunni Muslims mourned its loss as a spiritual and cultural trauma. Yet IS’s projected caliphate has no support among ulema internationally and is derided throughout the Muslim world. That said, the limitations of the nation state are becoming increasingly apparent in our world; this is especially true in the Middle East, which has no tradition of nationalism, and where the frontiers drawn by invaders were so arbitrary that it was well nigh impossible to create a truly national spirit. Here, too, IS is not simply harking back to a bygone age but is, however eccentrically, enunciating a modern concern.

The liberal-democratic nation state developed in Europe in part to serve the Industrial Revolution, which made the ideals of the Enlightenment no longer noble aspirations but practical necessities. It is not ideal: its Achilles heel has always been an inability to tolerate ethnic minorities – a failing responsible for some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. In other parts of the world where modernisation has developed differently, other polities may be more appropriate. So the liberal state is not an inevitable consequence of modernity; the attempt to produce democracy in Iraq using the colo­nial methods of invasion, subjugation and occupation could only result in an unnatural birth – and so IS emerged from the resulting mayhem.

IS may have overreached itself; its policies may not be sustainable and it faces determined opposition from Sunni and Shia Muslims alike. Interestingly Saudi Arabia, with its impressive counterterrorist resources, has already thwarted IS attempts to launch a series of attacks in the kingdom and may be the only regional power capable of bringing it down. The shooting in Canada on 22 October, where a Muslim convert killed a soldier at a war memorial, indicates that the blowback in the west has begun; to deal realistically with our situation, we need an informed understanding of the precise and limited role of Islam in the conflict, and to recognise that IS is not an atavistic return to a primitive past, but in some real sense a product of modernity. 

Karen Armstrong is the author of “Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence” 

10 Things You Must Pack

by Rick Seaney

If you think packing for a trip is a chore, this is for you: A list of essentials – the things you must pack – plus fun destinations where you can use this stuff. See the how-to packing video at the end.

10 Things to Pack

Electronic accessories: We know you won’t forget your phone because it’s attached to your hand but do NOT forget: Charger cords, ear buds and headphones, maybe a portable charger, whatever you need to stay in touch. Keep this stuff in a carry-on bag or on your person so you can get to it when you need it! Use it on a trip New York City.

International electronic stuff: Be sure you have the right power adapter plugs so you can use your charger cord (here’s a country guide to adapters). And don’t forget to contact your provider well ahead of your trip so you don’t get slammed by a big bill for international charges. Use all this on a trip to Buenos Aires.

Entertainment: We love books but they take up a lot of space and weight so download ebooks (and movies and TV) to your favorite device and maybe some games. That’ll keep you sharp on a trip to Las Vegas.

Cash and cards: If you want to buy a snack or meal on a plane, you’ll need a card. You won’t need much cash, but bring some. Tip: If you’ll be heading to another country, go to the bank and get a couple of hundred dollars’ worth of local currency so you can hit the ground running. Use it on a trip to Sydney.

Documents and photos: Again, print your boarding pass and save it along with any luggage tags just in case there’s a problem with your flight or bags. If traveling internationally, photocopy your passport, carry a couple of extra passport photos and keep them separate from the original; it will be useful if you have to go to an embassy or consulate for an emergency replacement. Use it on a trip to London.

Snacks: You may not get hungry on that hour-and-a-half long flight from but short hops have been known to drag on for hours due to weather or mechanical problems so always carry a few granola or power bars or a similar portable snack. Feeling powerful enough to leap tall mountains? Take a trip to Denver.

Clothes you’ll really wear: The key word is comfort. Only pack clothes you love, that fit, and look good on you; if one of those three ingredients is lacking, you’ll just be wasting space. Follow a similar color scheme so the top from one outfit goes with the pants from another, etc. As for shoes, try to limit yourself to two pairs you know are comfortable; pack one, wear the other. Now that you’re stylish and cozy, head to elegant Boston.

Bathing suit: Even if you’re not heading to the beach, toss a suit in your bag; there may be a pool at the hotel (or a trip to a lake). A suit takes up almost no room and weighs next to nothing. Put it to good use on a trip to Cancun.

Eye wear: Sunglasses are not just a fashion accessory; bring them. If you wear regular glasses, pack an extra pair. Contacts? Don’t forget the solution. Use this on a trip to Phoenix (and those glasses will come in handy if you make the three hour drive to the Grand Canyon).

Health essentials: Pack vitamins, daily medications, maybe some aspirin and upset stomach remedies plus a few Band-Aids. Complete the mini-first aid kit with hand-sanitizer wipes and use them on seatback tray tables (the most germ-ridden part of a plane). Now that you’re feeling good, try a trip to a scintillating city like Bangkok.

A Few Other Things You Might Want to Pack

Gadgets and selfie sticks: If these videos on the GoPro site are any indication, one of these stick-’em-anywhere cameras might make a good trip even more memorable. Ditto for selfie sticks (maybe – remember, they’re not welcome everywhere including some major theme parks).

Noise-canceling headphones: I don’t get on a plane without mine and not just for the music; it shuts out screaming babies so I can sleep.

Rain gear: A very small collapsible umbrella and/or a plastic poncho-in-a-pouch won’t take up much room. You can usually find these items at big box drugstores for less than $20 (and we’ve seen the ponchos for less than $5).

Above all, pack a little patience. You never know when a flight can be delayed or cancelled. But at least you’ll have a charged-up phone to view videos on.
Packing Video

VIDEO: Packing with the Sit & Zip method.


And here’s a do-NOT-pack list



"You know what I am sick of seeing? People attempting to half-heartedly explain terrorism with a simple "Oh well, the #US bombed a lone terrorist and so they snuck over the border into Europe and decided to attack civilians in #London."

Not only is that insulting to me but I'm sure it is insulting to your average worker in the Middle East. People don't just become terrorists overnight, they learn #Wahhabism from its biggest exporter and our biggest ally in the Middle East - #SaudiArabia and then they receive weapons and funding to go off and murder people and the minorities.

They have #NATO turn a blind eye as #Daesh fighters are trained in #Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The terrorists biggest friend is the US and its Western allies (UK / Australia) dollar or pound and the literal arms shipments we give them.

And your average terrorist is not some Muslim angry at the West - your average terrorist is someone who was created by and arguably benefited from the West."

~ Elizabeth Tonn  - 23 March 2017

Islamist Terrorism with a Human Face

[First posted Aug 6, 2014 by the source given at the end of the article]

The British media is continuing to publish puff pieces about Islamist extremists working for British charities in Syria.

In December 2013, the BBC aired a programme documenting the struggle of aid convoys travelling to Syria, but failed to mention the convoy volunteers’ support for Al Qaeda operatives and extremist preachers. In April 2014, Britain’s Channel 4 aired an interview with two “charity workers” in Syria – Tauqir Sharif and his wife, Racquell Hayden-Best. Channel 4 neglected to mention that the husband and wife team were supporters of ISIS, the leading terror group in Syria, now wreaking havoc in Iraq.

A few months later, on July 2, the BBC published a sympathetic piece about Kasim Jameel, another British “aid worker”, whom they portrayed as the victim of an over-zealous British police. Jameel, in fact, has expressed praise for Syrian jihadi “martyrs” and paraphrases a notorious quote by Osama Bin Laden: “Our men love death like your men love life.”

Most recently, on July 12, The Times published a profile of Mohammed Shakiel Shabir, another British “aid worker” working in Syria and Gaza. The article touches on Shabir’s difficult adolescence: his “multiple spells in prison, an ill-fated marriage and the birth of two sons when he was barely out of his teens.”

Although the piece notes some of Shabir’s associations, including the fact that he carries around with him DVDs of sermons by Anwar Al-Awlaki, the late Al Qaeda leader, Shabir’s turn to radical Islam and his purported charitable work, however, is painted as “a classic redemption story” made harder by others’ attempts to label him an extremist. The journalist, Laura Pitel, writes that, “the fears of a Syria terror threat have muddied the narrative. [Shabir] embodies the difficulties of protecting national security without alienating British Muslims who are determined to help.”

In truth, Shabir, and the profile painted of him by The Times, actually embodies the continued and distinct failure of the British media to recognize the signs of radical Islamism and to grasp that a number of nefarious groups have understood the importance of placing a human face on an iniquitous ideology.

Mohammed Shakiel Shabir, as The Times article notes, is a “point man for a string of British Islamic charities.” In particular, Shabir works for Children in Deen and Lifecare UK, two extremist British Islamist charities funding projects in Syria and Gaza.

Lifecare UK is also part of a coalition of charities named the “UK Convoy to Syria,” whose members include Shabir’s other charity, Children in Deen.Lifecare UK is a British charity that claims to fund humanitarian projects implemented in Gaza by another charity, Families Relief. Families Relief has been identified as a member of the Hamas-funding Union of Good, a designated terrorist entity under US law. Trustees of Families Relief include an official in the Islamic Society of Britain, a Muslim Brotherhood group; as well as a founder of the Tunisian Islamist Ennahda Party.

Children in Deen works closely with the Gaza-based Al-Falah Benevolent Society, which is described by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre as one of “Hamas’s charitable societies,” and is known to be run by Ramadan Tanbura, “a well-known Hamas figure.” One of Al-Falah’s Directors, Jamal Hamdi al-Haddad, also manages one of Hamas’ Hebrew-language education programmes, entitled “Know Your Enemy”. Shabir has promoted the partnership between Children in Deen and this Hamas charitable front.

In March 2014, it emerged that an aid convoy organised by Children in Deen was used by British suicide bomber Abdul Waheed Majeed to get to war-torn Syria in July last year — the same convoy with which Mohammed Shakiel Shabir travelled.

Events partly organized by Shabir’s charities have included fundraising evenings with speakers such as Khalid Fikri, a sectarian cleric who describes Shia Muslims as “the worst and greatest enemies against our Ummah [Islamic nation]” and a vocal supporter of a convicted terrorist, Omar Abdul Rahman, whom Fikri claims was the victim of “a false accusation and a political court” presided over by a “Jew Judge”. Fikri was joined on stage by Yusha Evans, another Islamist preacher, who has said that he feels “sicken[ed]” by “Muslims [who] have love and affection for … disbelievers.” He has also described “moderate Muslims” as “one of the biggest threats to the success of this Ummah [the Muslim community.]” Evans has expressed admiration for Tarek Mehanna, who, in 2011, was convicted of “conspiracy to provide material support to al-Qaeda, providing material support to terrorists (and conspiracy to do so), [and] conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country.”

Shabir’s social media postings include expressed praise for leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization; support for the hate preacher Zahir Mahmood, who has claimed that, “Hamas are not terrorists. They’re freedom fighters”; and calls for Moazzam Begg, the pro-jihadist leader of Cageprisoners, who was recently arrested on terrorism charges, to be freed.

Shabir dismisses the use of “protests and demonstrations” and calls upon Muslims “to rise and defend and fight” against the “kufaar”

Most importantly, however, is that Shabir has acted as the middleman between the British charities listed above and the IHH, a Turkish charity that The Times has reported is involved in gun-running missions to Syria. German media has revealed that similar convoys of ambulances from Germany, supposedly containing medical supplies, are being used to bring weapons into Syria. It is noteworthy that when Shabir’s charities travel to Syria through Turkey, they liaise with IHH aid convoys.

The IHH operates in 120 countries with an annual budget of around $100 million, but its various offshoots are among banned terror groups under Dutch, German and Israeli law. The IHH’s claim to be humanitarian organization is a thin façade – its own website includes a tribute to Shamil Basayev, the Chechen terrorist who murdered 350 people, including 186 children, during the Beslan school siege.

Shabir, in fact, first entered radical Islam through the IHH, when he took part in the infamous 2010 boat convoy to Gaza, which was raided by Israeli forces. Today, Shabir remains an important “coordinator” between British Islamist charities and the IHH. Shabir has even described IHH leader Bulent Yildrim as his “dear big brother” for whom he has a “lot of love and respect.” Yildrim, known for his intense anti-Semitism, recently tweeted a warning that “All Jews living in Turkey will pay a price.”

“Aid workers” like Shabir use philanthropic endeavour to put a human face on extreme Islamism. These various puff pieces paint violent Islamism as nothing more than welfare provision. Although the misuse of charitable aspirations is by no means a new phenomenon, the media is, at present, particularly guilty of affording legitimacy to such barefaced exploitation.

Related Posts
Jihadists Dressed as “Charity Workers”
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Islamic Help funds Hamas charitable front
Syria charity promotes anti-Shi’ite preacher
Extremist preacher Uthman Lateef fundraises for Islamic Help
iERA linked to ISIS recruits




Dennis Kucinich: Why are we at war in Syria?

By Dennis Kucinich | March 14, 2017

The United States government is now at war in Syria, with nearly 1,000 combat-ready U.S. troops providing artillery and air support in the north. We have put our troops in an impossible and perilous position, with enemies on all sides.

The war in Syria is not a fight for democracy. The U.S. is fighting alongside and supporting the cause of 80,000 jihadis from 90 different countries. Nearly a half-million Syrians have died in the war fueled by this sinister worldwide participation.

The U.S. is equipping terrorists who keep changing their name, but the game is the same: To unite and achieve a radical Islamic fundamentalist takeover of the region.

Billions of U.S. tax dollars have helped spawn this war, creating death and misery, massive migrations of refugees and immigration crises.

The U.S. presence in Syria is an illegal act of war. It violates international law and it is unconstitutional. Syria did not invite the U.S. to come in. Congress has not approved it. Syria has been fighting Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, ISIS and other radical Islamic terror groups to whom Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the U.S. have given direct and indirect aid.

ISIS and the other terrorist groups can be defeated by cutting off their funds, which is exactly what Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s just-introduced bill, the Stop Arming Terrorists Act (HR 608), aims to do. A companion bill, S. 532, has been introduced in the Senate by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

Most of the media is fueling the war, unwittingly becoming a mouthpiece for the masterful, intelligent propagandists of jihadi groups whose “humanitarian” messaging permeates every level of social media. It tugs at the conscience of caring people while masking the reality of violent subjugation and religious extremism that propels their movement.

A deeper question needs to be asked: Why is it U.S. policy to upend Syrian society, whose tradition has been to respect freedom of worship by people of all faiths, and replace it with religious extremism?

Syria provides its people with universal health care and universal education, up to postgraduate level. Its literacy rate is approximately that of the United States. Before the war, Syria was moving progressively toward a society where women have full rights and are free to come and go as they wish, to dress as they wish, to participate in all occupations.

Have we not learned our lessons from Iraq and Libya, where our direct interventions set the trajectory for democracy back to the Dark Ages? We are destroying every American value we say we support with this senseless, reckless behavior.

Is the U.S. presence emboldening those who want to destroy Syria? On Saturday morning, more than 40 Iraqi pilgrims traveling by bus to a holy site in a cemetery in downtown Damascus were killed, and more than 120 were injured, when explosive devices were detonated. The group claiming responsibility for this massacre? Tahrir al-Sham, a deadly hybrid of Al Qaeda, so-called “moderates” previously backed by the U.S.

The attack on this previously safe area of old Damascus signals a new and more dangerous phase of the efforts of radical Islamic fundamentalists to overturn the Syrian government through acts of terror and paramilitary assaults.

Why in the world does the United States want to help establish a fundamentalist caliphate, guided by Shariah law? Why, in fact, has our government given mere lip service to the slaughter of Christians and the desecration of holy places in the region? How does this reflect American values?

Some people say that if we fight them over there, we won’t have to fight them over here. They are wrong. It’s not that we are fighting them over there. We are supporting them over there, with our tax dollars and now our troops.

Every day we occupy Syria, we arm, train and empower our enemies and put our brave young men and women at risk, using them as pawns in an insane game of nations.

If we really are serious about fighting terrorism and making America safer, we must look to history, learn from our mistakes and get off this endlessly expensive wheel of war.


The war against Syria is a fabricated war

Student sums it up:

"In conclusion, the war against Syria is a fabricated war from the United States and other leaders to overthrow the Syrian government.

Corporate media has reported that the conflict began when some teenagers graffiti anti-Asaad lines, were arrested for it, which upset parents and outraged the Syrian public and then created demonstrations that turned violent when President Bashar al-Assad's government violently repressed protests calling for his removal. However, this was all a fabrication. The United States CIA was waiting to make their move, partnering with terrorists which were being funded by the United States government and other organizations with weapons, ammunition, and other war needs. The weapons were being hidden in mosques that were smuggled into Syria.

Syria was just one out of the seven countries the United States government wanted to take down in just five years as claimed by retired general Wesley Clark after the occurrence of the 9/11 attack.

Corporate media does a fantastic job at showing the public negative fabrications of other countries to show reasons for the actions they have taken, to show reasons for breaking international law by entering Syria against Syria’s wishes and thinking it’s alright to do whatever they want to do.

Overall, the United States government is a bully. They think it’s appropriate to try to take over countries because they have a good military and they can use their military personnel and their relationships with other countries and organizations to get what they want.

Based off of what corporate media broadcasts, society, especially in the United States thinks our government and military are heroes, protecting our country from terrorist and other extremist groups. We never get to hear the other side of the story unless we do our own research and dig deep. We definitely won’t be hearing the full truth or possibly half of the truth on our nine o’clock news in regards to this war or any other way.

The sad truth is that our government, the United States government are bullies who do whatever it takes to get what they want, ultimately making them terrorists to other countries. World peace doesn’t seem to be something we can grasp. Where does the never-ending cycle come to a halt? Will it ever?"

June Terpsa Facebook post - 15 March 2017

The Crusade for Syria: A Big Lie

Sunday, May 27, 2012 | By Aisling Byrne

The Neocon Propaganda Machine Pushing "Regime Change" In Syria: A Torrent of Disinformation
“War with Iran is already here,” wrote a leading Israeli commentator recently, describing “the combination of covert warfare and international pressure” being applied to Iran.

Although not mentioned, the “strategic prize” of the first stage of this war on Iran is Syria; the first campaign in a much wider sectarian power-bid. “Other than the collapse of the Islamic Republic itself,” Saudi King Abdullah was reported to have said last summer, “nothing would weaken Iran more than losing Syria.”

Click on map to enlarge
By December, senior United States officials were explicit about their regime change agenda for Syria: Tom Donilon, the US National Security Adviser, explained that the “end of the [President Bashar al-] Assad regime would constitute Iran’s greatest setback in the region yet – a strategic blow that will further shift the balance of power in the region against Iran.”

 Feltman servin' "regime change" 
Shortly before, a key official in terms of operationalizing this policy, Under Secretary of State for the Near East Jeffrey Feltman, had stated at a congressional hearing that the US would “relentlessly pursue our two-track strategy of supporting the opposition and diplomatically and financially strangling the [Syrian] regime until that outcome is achieved”.

What we are seeing in Syria is a deliberate and calculated campaign to bring down the Assad government so as to replace it with a regime “more compatible” with US interests in the region.

Which Path to Persia? (PDF)
The blueprint for this project is essentially a report produced by the neo-conservative Brookings Institute for regime change in Iran in 2009. The report – “Which Path to Persia?”  - continues to be the generic strategic approach for US-led regime change in the region.

A rereading of it, together with the more recent “Towards a Post-Assad Syria” (which adopts the same language and perspective, but focuses on Syria, and was recently produced by two US neo-conservative think-tanks) illustrates how developments in Syria have been shaped according to the step-by-step approach detailed in the “Paths to Persia” report with the same key objective: regime change.

"Toward a Post-Assad Syria" (PDF)
The authors of these reports include, among others, John Hannah and Martin Indyk, both former senior neo-conservative officials from the George W Bush/Dick Cheney administration, and both advocates for regime change in Syria. Not for the first time are we seeing a close alliance between US/British neo-cons with Islamists (including, reports show, some with links to al-Qaeda) working together to bring about regime change in an “enemy” state.

Arguably, the most important component in this struggle for the “strategic prize” has been the deliberate construction of a largely false narrative that pits unarmed democracy demonstrators being killed in their hundreds and thousands as they protest peacefully against an oppressive, violent regime, a “killing machine”  led by the “monster” Assad.

Whereas in Libya, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) claimed it had “no confirmed reports of civilian casualties” because, as the New York Times wrote recently, “the alliance had created its own definition for ‘confirmed’: only a death that NATO itself investigated and corroborated could be called confirmed”.

“But because the alliance declined to investigate allegations,” the Times wrote, “its casualty tally by definition could not budge – from zero”.

In Syria, we see the exact opposite: the majority of Western mainstream media outlets, along with the media of the US’s allies in the region, particularly al-Jazeera and the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV channels, are effectively collaborating with the “regime change” narrative and agenda with a near-complete lack of questioning or investigation of statistics and information put out by organizations and media outlets that are either funded or owned by the US/European/Gulf alliance – the very same countries instigating the regime change project in the first place.

Claims of “massacres”, “campaigns of rape targeting women and girls in predominantly Sunni towns”  ”torture” and even “child-rape” are reported by the international press based largely on two sources – the British-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights and the Local Co-ordination Committees (LCCs) – with minimal additional checking or verification.

Hiding behind the rubric – “we are not able to verify these statistics” – the lack of integrity in reporting by the Western mainstream media has been starkly apparent since the onset of events in Syria. A decade after the Iraq war, it would seem that no lessons from 2003 – from the demonization of Saddam Hussein and his purported weapons of mass destruction – have been learnt.

Of the three main sources for all data on numbers of protesters killed and numbers of people attending demonstrations – the pillars of the narrative – all are part of the “regime change” alliance.

The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, in particular, is reportedly funded through a Dubai-based fund with pooled (and therefore deniable) Western-Gulf money (Saudi Arabia alone has, according to Elliot Abrams  allocated US$130 billion to “palliate the masses” of the Arab Spring).

What appears to be a nondescript British-based organization, the Observatory has been pivotal in sustaining the claims of the mass killing of thousands of peaceful protesters using inflated figures, “facts”, and often exaggerated claims of “massacres” and even recently “genocide”.

Although it claims to be based in its director’s house, the Observatory has been described as the “front office” of a large media propaganda set-up run by the Syrian opposition and its backers. The Russian Foreign Ministry  stated starkly:

At the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights headquarters: "No!  I told you, I don't eat pepperoni!  Give me 30 larges...all of them veggie...with artichoke, spinach, and tomato!  And get them here quick!  I've got a whole night of regime change ahead of me!"

The agenda of the [Syrian] transitional council [is] composed in London by the Syrian Observatory [for] Human Rights … It is also there where pictures of ‘horror’ in Syria are made to stir up hatred towards Assad’s regime.

The Observatory is not legally registered either as a company or charity in the United Kingdom, but operates informally; it has no office, no staff and its director is reportedly awash with funding.

It receives its information, it says, from a network of “activists” inside Syria; its English-language website is a single page with al-Jazeera instead hosting a minute-by-minute live blog page for it since the outset of protests.

Local Coordination Committees
The second, the LCCs, are a more overt part of the opposition’s media infrastructure, and their figures and reporting is similarly encompassed only [16] within the context of this main narrative: in an analysis of their daily reports, I couldn’t find a single reference to any armed insurgents being killed: reported deaths are of “martyrs”, “defector soldiers”, people killed in “peaceful demonstrations” and similar descriptions.

The third is al-Jazeera, whose biased role in “reporting” the Awakenings has been well documented. Described by one seasoned media analyst  as the “sophisticated mouthpiece of the state of Qatar and its ambitious emir”, al-Jazeera is integral to Qatar’s “foreign-policy aspirations”.

Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani
Al-Jazeera has, and continues,  to provide technical support, equipment, hosting and “credibility” to Syrian opposition activists and organizations. Reports show that as early as March 2011, al-Jazeera was providing messaging and technical support to exiled Syrian opposition activists , who even by January 2010 were co-ordinating their messaging activities from Doha.

Nearly 10 months on, however, and despite the daily international media onslaught, the project isn’t exactly going to plan: a YouGov poll commissioned by the Qatar Foundation  showed last week that 55 per cent of Syrians do not want Assad to resign and 68 per cent of Syrians disapprove of the Arab League sanctions imposed on their country.

According to the poll, Assad’s support has effectively increased since the onset of current events – 46 per cent of Syrians felt Assad was a “good” president for Syria prior to current events in the country – something that certainly doesn’t fit with the false narrative being peddled.

As if trumpeting the success of their own propaganda campaign, the poll summary concludes:

“The majority of Arabs believe Syria’s President Basher al-Assad should resign in the wake of the regime’s brutal treatment of protesters … 81% of Arabs [want] President Assad to step down. They believe Syria would be better off if free democratic elections were held under the supervision of a transitional government.”

One is left wondering who exactly is Assad accountable to – the Syrian people or the Arab public? A blurring of lines that might perhaps be useful as two main Syrian opposition groups have just announced that while they are against foreign military intervention, they do not consider “Arab intervention” to be foreign.

Unsurprisingly, not a single mainstream major newspaper or news outlet reported the YouGov poll results – it doesn’t fit their line.

In the UK, the volunteer-run Muslim News was the only newspaper to report the findings; yet only two weeks before in the immediate aftermath of the suicide explosions in Damascus, both the Guardian, like other outlets, within hours of the explosions were publishing sensational, unsubstantiated reports from bloggers, including one who was “sure that some of the bodies … were those of demonstrators”.

“They have planted bodies before,” he said; “they took dead people from Dera’a [in the south] and showed the media bodies in Jisr al-Shughour [near the Turkish border.]”

Recent reports have cast serious doubt on the accuracy of the false scenario peddled daily by the mainstream international press, in particular information put out by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the LCCs.

In December, the mainstream US intelligence group Stratfor cautioned:
Most of the [Syrian] opposition’s more serious claims have turned out to be grossly exaggerated or simply untrue … revealing more about the opposition’s weaknesses than the level of instability inside the Syrian regime.

Throughout the nine-month uprising, Stratfor has advised caution on accuracy of the mainstream story on Syria: in September it commented that “with two sides to every war … the war of perceptions in Syria is no exception”.

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and LCC reports, “like those from the regime, should be viewed with skepticism”, argues Stratfor; “the opposition understands that it needs external support, specifically financial support, if it is to be a more robust movement than it is now. To that end, it has every reason to present the facts on the ground in a way that makes the case for foreign backing.”

Sergey Lavrov
As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov observed: “It is clear that the purpose is to provoke a humanitarian catastrophe, to get a pretext to demand external interference into this conflict.” Similarly, in mid-December, American Conservative reported:
“CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] analysts are skeptical regarding the march to war. The frequently cited United Nations report that more than 3,500 civilians have been killed by Assad’s soldiers is based largely on rebel sources and is uncorroborated. The Agency has refused to sign off on the claims.
“Likewise, accounts of mass defections from the Syrian army and pitched battles between deserters and loyal soldiers appear to be a fabrication, with few defections being confirmed independently. Syrian government claims that it is being assaulted by rebels who are armed, trained and financed by foreign governments are more true than false.”
As recently as November, the Free Syria Army implied their numbers would be larger, but, as they explained to one analyst, they are “advising sympathizers to delay their defection” until regional conditions improve.

A guide to regime change

In relation to Syria, section three of the “Paths to Persia” report is particularly relevant – it is essentially a step-by-step guide detailing options for instigating and supporting a popular uprising, inspiring an insurgency and/or instigating a coup. The report comes complete with a “Pros and Cons” section:
“An insurgency is often easier to instigate and support from abroad … Insurgencies are famously cheap to support … covert support to an insurgency would provide the United States with “plausibility deniability” … [with less] diplomatic and political backlash … than if the United States were to mount a direct military action … Once the regime suffers some major setback [this] provides an opportunity to act.”
Military action, the report argues, would only be taken once other options had been tried and shown to have failed as the “international community” would then conclude of any attack that the government “brought it on themselves” by refusing a very good deal.

Key aspects for instigating a popular uprising and building a “full-fledged insurgency” are evident in relation to developments in Syria.

These include:
“Funding and helping organize domestic rivals of the regime” including using “unhappy” ethnic groups;
“Building the capacity of ‘effective oppositions’ with whom to work” in order to “create an alternative leadership to seize power”;
Provision of equipment and covert backing to groups, including arms – either directly or indirectly, as well as “fax machines … Internet access, funds” (on Iran the report noted that the “CIA could take care of most of the supplies and training for these groups, as it has for decades all over the world”);
Training and facilitation of messaging by opposition activists;
Constructing a narrative “with the support of US-backed media outlets could highlight regime shortcomings and make otherwise obscure critics more prominent” – “having the regime discredited among key ‘opinion shapers’ is critical to its collapse”;
The creation of a large funding budget to fund a wide array of civil-society-led initiatives (a so-called “$75 million fund” created under former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice-funded civil society groups, including “a handful of Beltway-based think-tanks and institutions [which] announced new Iran desks)” ;
The need for an adjacent land corridor in a neighboring country “to help develop an infrastructure to support operations”.
“Beyond this,” continues the report, “US economic pressure (and perhaps military pressure as well) can discredit the regime, making the population hungry for a rival leadership.” 

The US and its allies, particularly Britain and France, have funded and helped “shape” the opposition from the outset – building both on attempts started by the US in 2006 to construct a unified front against the Assad government, and the perceived “success” of the Libyan Transitional National Council model.

Despite months of attempts – predominately by the West – at cajoling the various groups into a unified, proficient opposition movement, they remain “a diverse group, representing the country’s ideological, sectarian and generational divides”. 

”There neither has been nor is [there] now any natural tendency towards unity between these groups, since they belong to totally different ideological backgrounds and have antagonistic political views,” one analyst concluded. 

At a recent meeting with the British foreign secretary, the different groups would not even meet with William Hague together, instead meeting him separately.

Nevertheless, despite a lack of cohesion, internal credibility and legitimacy, the opposition, predominately under the umbrella of the Syrian National Council (SNC), is being groomed for office. This includes capacity-building, as confirmed by the former Syrian ambassador to the US, Rafiq Juajati, now part of the opposition. 

At a closed briefing in Washington DC in mid-December 2011, he confirmed that the US State Department and the SWP-German Institute for International and Security Affairs (a think-tank that provides foreign policy analysis to the German government) were funding a project that is managed by the US Institute for Peace and SWP, working in partnership with the SNC, to prepare the SNC for the takeover and running of Syria.

Burhan Ghaliyoun: failed attempt at "unity"
In a recent interview, SNC leader Burhan Ghaliyoun disclosed (so as to “speed up the process” of Assad’s fall) the credentials expected of him: “There will be no special relationship with Iran,” he said. “Breaking the exceptional relationship means breaking the strategic, military alliance,” adding that “after the fall of the Syrian regime, [Hezbollah] won’t be the same.”  

Described in Slate magazine  as the “most liberal and Western-friendly of the Arab Spring uprisings”, Syrian opposition groups sound as compliant as their Libyan counterparts prior to the demise of Muammar Gaddafi, whom the New York Times described as “secular-minded professionals – lawyers, academics, businesspeople – who talk about democracy, transparency, human rights and the rule of law”; that was, until reality transitioned to former leader of the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group Abdulhakim Belhaj and his jihadi colleagues. 

The import of weapons, equipment, manpower (predominantly from Libya)  and training by governments and other groups linked to the US, NATO and their regional allies began in April-May 2011,  according to various reports  and is co-ordinated out of the US air force base at Incirlik in southern Turkey. From Incirlik, an information warfare division also directs communications to Syria via the Free Syria Army. This covert support continues, as American Conservative reported in mid-December:
“Unmarked NATO warplanes are arriving at Turkish military bases close to Iskenderum on the Syrian border, delivering weapons … as well as volunteers from the Libyan Transitional National Council … Iskenderum is also the seat of the Free Syrian Army, the armed wing of the Syrian National Council. French and British special forces trainers are on the ground, assisting the Syrian rebels while the CIA and US Spec Ops are providing communications equipment and intelligence to assist the rebel cause, enabling the fighters to avoid concentrations of Syrian soldiers.”
The Washington Post exposed in April 2011 that recent WikiLeaks showed that the US State Department had been giving millions of dollars to various Syrian exile groups (including the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Movement for Justice and Development in London) and individuals since 2006 via its “Middle East Partnership Initiative” administered by a US foundation, the Democracy Council.

WikiLeaks cables confirmed that well into 2010, this funding was continuing, a trend that not only continues today but which has expanded in light of the shift to the “soft power” option aimed at regime change in Syria. 

As this neo-con-led call for regime change in Syria gains strength within the US administration,  so too has this policy been institutionalized among leading US foreign policy think-tanks, many of whom have “Syria desks” or “Syria working groups” which collaborate closely with Syrian opposition groups and individuals (for example USIP  and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy)  and which have published a range of policy documents making the case for regime change. 

In the UK, the similarly neo-con Henry Jackson Society (which “supports the maintenance of a strong military, by the United States, the countries of the European Union and other democratic powers, armed with expeditionary capabilities with a global reach” and which believes that “only modern liberal democratic states are truly legitimate”) is similarly pushing the agenda for regime change in Syria. 

This is in partnership with Syrian opposition figures including Ausama Monajed, a former leader of the Syrian exile group, the Movement for Justice & Development, linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was funded by the US State Department from 2006, as we know from WikiLeaks. 

Monajed, a member of the SNC, currently directs a public relations firm recently established in London and incidentally was the first to use the term “genocide” in relation to events in Syria in a recent SNC press release.

The well-paid Syrian exile community (clockwise from top left): Malik Al Abdah, Ammar Abdulhamid, Radwan Ziadeh, Anas Al Abdah, Ausama Monajed, and Najib Ghadbian.  We provide selected biographies of these individuals in an addendum below.

As one Wikileaks cable shows, the visits to Syria of Democracy Councilfounder James Prince (Left) and U.S. State Department Foreign Affairs Officer Joseph Barghout (Right) were of concern to the Syrian government, due in part to the financing of oppositional exile groups based in London and Washington and their development of organizational links within the country.
Syria In-Transition conference at the United States Congress, Washington D.C., April 25, 2008, sponsored by recipients of U.S. State Department (Middle East Partnership Initiative) grants, including the Democracy Council and theMovement for Justice and Development.  Click on image to enlarge.

Since the outset, significant pressure has been brought to bear on Turkey to establish a “humanitarian corridor” along its southern border with Syria. The main aim of this, as the “Paths to Persia” report outlines, is to provide a base from which the externally-backed insurgency can be launched and based. 

The objective of this “humanitarian corridor” is about as humanitarian as the four-week NATO bombing of Sirte when NATO exercised its “responsibility to protect” mandate, as approved by the UN Security Council.

More detailed instructions from "democracy activists" about what the "international community" needs to do.
All this is not to say that there isn’t a genuine popular demand for change in Syria against the repressive security-dominated infrastructure that dominates every aspect of people’s lives, nor that gross human-rights violations have not been committed, both by the Syrian security forces, armed opposition insurgents, as well as mysterious third force characters operating since the onset of the crisis in Syria, including insurgents, mostly jihadis from neighboring Iraq and Lebanon, as well as more recently Libya, among others.

Such abuses are inevitable in low-intensity conflict. Leading critics of this US-France-UK-Gulf-led regime change project have, from the outset, called for full accountability and punishment for any security or other official “however senior”, found to have committed any human-rights abuses.

Ibrahim al-Amine writes that some in the regime have conceded “that the security remedy was damaging in many cases and regions [and] that the response to the popular protests was mistaken … it would have been possible to contain the situation via clear and firm practical measures – such as arresting those responsible for torturing children in Deraa”. And it argues that the demand for political pluralism and an end to the all-encompassing repression is both vital and urgent.

But what may have began as popular protests, initially focused on local issues and incidents (including the case of the torture of young boys in Dera’a by security forces) were rapidly hijacked by this wider strategic plan for regime change. Five years ago, I worked in northern Syria with the United Nations managing a large community development project.

After evening community meetings, it wasn’t uncommon to find the mukhabarat (military intelligence) waiting for us to vacate the room so they could scan flipcharts posted on the walls. That almost every aspect of people’s daily lives was regulated by a sclerotic dysfunctional Ba’ath party/security bureaucracy, devoid of any ideology apart from the inevitable corruption and nepotism that comes with authoritarian power, was apparent in every feature of people’s lives.

Tuesday, December 20 was reportedly the “deadliest day of the nine-month [Syrian] uprising “with the “organized massacre” of a “mass defection” of army deserters widely reported by the international press in Idlib, northern Syria. Claiming that areas of Syria were now “exposed to large-scale genocide”, the SNC lamented the “250 fallen heroes during a 48-hour period”, citing figures provided by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.  Quoting the same source, the Guardian reported that the Syrian army was:
“… hunt[ing] down deserters after troops … killed close to 150 men who had fled their base”. A picture has emerged … of a mass defection … that went badly wrong … with loyalist forces positioned to mow down large numbers of defectors as they fled a military base. Those who managed to escape were later hunted down in hideouts in nearby mountains, multiple sources have reported. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated that 100 deserters were besieged, then killed or wounded. Regular troops allegedly also hunted down residents who had given shelter to the deserters.”
The Guardian’s live blog-quoted AVAAZ, the citizen political advocacy/public relations group, which “claimed 269 people had been killed in the clashes”, and cited AVAAZ’s precise breakdown of casualties: “163 armed revolutionaries, 97 government troops and 9 civilians”.  They noted that AVAAZ “provided nothing to corroborate the claim.”

The Washington Post reported only that they had spoken to “an activist with the rights group AVAAZ [who] said he had spoken to local activists and medical groups who put the death toll in that area Tuesday at 269.”
A day after initial reports of the massacre of fleeing deserters, however, the story had changed. On December 23, the Telegraph reported:
“At first they were said to be army deserters attempting to break into Turkey to join the FSA [Free Syrian Army], but they are now said to be unarmed civilians and activists attempting to escape the army’s attempts to bring the province back under control. They were surrounded by troops and tanks and gunned down until there were no survivors, according to reports.”
The New York Times had, on December 21, reported that the “massacre”, citing the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, was of “unarmed civilians and activists, with no armed military defectors among them, the rights groups said.”

It quoted the head of the Observatory who described it as “an organized massacre” and said his account corroborated a Kfar Owaid witness’ account: “The security forces had lists of names of those who organized massive anti-regime protests … the troops then opened fire with tanks, rockets and heavy machine guns [and], bombs filled with nails to increase the number of casualties.”

How do you say "procrastination" in Arabic?
The LA Times quoted an activist it had spoken to via satellite connection who, from his position “sheltering in the woods” commented: “The word ‘massacre’ seems like too small a word to describe what happened.” Meanwhile, the Syrian government reported that on December 19 and 20, it had killed “tens” of members of “armed terrorist gangs” in both Homs and Idlib, and had arrested many wanted individuals.

The truth of these two “deadly” days will probably never be known – the figures cited above (between 10-163 armed insurgents, 9-111 unarmed civilians and 0-97 government forces) differ so significantly in both numbers reported killed and who they were, that the “truth” is impossible to establish.

In relation to an earlier purported “massacre” in Homs, a Stratfor investigation found “no signs of a massacre”, concluding that “opposition forces have an interest in portraying an impending massacre, hoping to mimic the conditions that propelled a foreign military intervention in Libya”.

Nevertheless, the “massacre” of December 19-20 in Idlib was reported as fact, and was etched into the narrative of Assad’s “killing machine.”

Both the recent UN Human Rights Commissioner’s report and a recent data blog report on reported deaths in “Syria’s bloody uprising” by the Guardian (published December 13) – two examples of attempts to establish the truth about numbers killed in the Syrian conflict – rely almost exclusively on opposition-provided data: interviews with 233 alleged “army defectors” in the case of the UN report, and on reports from the Syrian Human Rights Observatory, the LCCs and al-Jazeera in the case of the Guardian’s data blog.

The Guardian reports a total of 1,414.5 people (sic) killed – including 144 Syrian security personnel – between January and November 21, 2011. Based solely on press reports, the report contains a number of basic inaccuracies (eg sources not matching numbers killed with places cited in original sources): their total includes 23 Syrians killed by the Israeli army in June on the Golan Heights; 25 people reported “wounded” are included in total figures for those killed, as are many people reported shot.

The report makes no reference to any killings of armed insurgents during the entire 10-month period – all victims are “protesters”, “civilians” or “people” – apart from the 144 security personnel.

Seventy percent of the report’s data sources are from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the LCCs and “activists”; 38 per cent of press reports are from al-Jazeera, 3 per cent from Amnesty International and 1.5 per cent from official Syrian sources.

In response to the UN Commissioner’s report, Syria’s ambassador to the UN commented: “How could defectors give positive testimonies on the Syrian government? Of course they will give negative testimonies against the Syrian government. They are defectors.”

In the effort to inflate figures of casualties, the public relations-activist group AVAAZ has consistently outstripped even the UN. AVAAZ has publicly stated it is involved in “smuggling activists … out of the country”, running “secret safe houses to shelter … top activists from regime thugs” and that one “AVAAZ citizen journalist” “discover[ed] a mass grave”.

It states proudly that the BBC and CNN have said that AVAAZ data amounts to some 30 per cent of their news coverage of Syria. The Guardian reported AVAAZ’s latest claim to have “evidence” of killings of some 6,200 people (including security forces and including 400 children), claiming 617 of whom died under torture – their justification to have verified each single death with confirmation by three people, “including a relative and a cleric who handled the body” is improbable in the extreme.

The killing of one brigadier-general and his children in April last year in Homs illustrates how near impossible it is, particularly during sectarian conflict, to verify even one killing – in this case, a man and his children:

The general, believed to be Abdu Tallawi, was killed with his children and nephew while passing through an agitated neighborhood. There are two accounts of what happened to him and his family, and they differ about the victim’s sect.

Regime loyalists say that he was killed by takfiris – hardline Islamists who accuse other Muslims of apostasy – because he belonged to the Alawite sect. The protesters insist that he is a member of the Tallawi family from Homs and that he was killed by security forces to accuse the opposition and destroy their reputation. Some even claim that he was shot because he refused to fire at protesters.

The third account is ignored due to the extreme polarization of opinions in the city [Homs]. The brigadier-general was killed because he was in a military vehicle, even though he had his kids with him. Whoever killed him was not concerned with his sect but with directing a blow to the regime, thus provoking an even harsher crackdown, which, in turn, would drag the protest movement into a cycle of violence with the state.

Editors' Addendum (The Syrian Exiles):

 Ammar Abdulhamid (born 1966)
  • Currently lives in Washington D.C.
  • Formerly a Visiting Fellow at the Saban Center for Near East Policy at the Brookings Institution, 2004-2006
  • Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies
  • Co-founder, Tharwa Foundation
  • Co-founder, DarEmar
  • Co-founder, Hands Across the Mideast Support Alliance (HAMSA) 

Ausama Monajed (Born 1980)
  • Currently lives in London (UK)
  • Member, Syrian National Council (advisor to the Secretary General)
  • Founder and Director of UK-based opposition TV channel, Barada Television
  • Executive Board member of Movement for Justice and Development
  • Economist and Project Manager for the European Commission and the United Nations Development Program
  • Executive Director of London-based Strategic Research and Communication Centre

Anas al-Abdeh (born 1967)
  • Currently lives in London (UK)
  • Founder of the Movement for Justice and Development
  • Member of "The Damascus Declaration"

Malik al-Abdeh 

  • Co-founder of the Movement for Justice and Development
  • Founder and director of Barada Television, a London-based satellite network 
Najib Ghadbian (born 1962)
  • Professor of Political Science at the University of Arkansas
  • Founding member, Democratic Network in the Arab World
  • Author of Democratization and the Islamists Challenge in the Arab World (English 1997 & Arabic 2002) 
  • Author of The Second Asad Regime: Bashar of Lost Opportunities (2006)
  • Founding member of the Syrian Salvation Front (London, UK)

Radwan Ziadeh (born 1976)
  • Senior Fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP)
  • Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Middle East Studies (IMES) at Elliot School for International Affairs, George Washington University 
  • Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU)
  • Director of foreign relations office for the Syrian National Council (SNC)
  • Formerly a Visiting Scholar at Dubai Initiative at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Former Reagan-Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)
  • Former Visiting Fellow at Chatham House (The Royal Institute for International Affairs)
  • Former Visiting Scholar at the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard University
  • Founder of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies in Syria
  • Co-founder and executive director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Washington D.C.


Originally published in Counterpunch
January 6-8, 2012
Images and captions added by Color Revolutions and Geopolitics