ISIL affirming their Salafi Jihadi credentials

This is statement by the ISIL spokesperson Abu Muhammad al-’Adnani, seeks to affirm the Salafi Jihadi credentials of the ISIL and reasons for their differences with Al-Qaeda and their official affiliate Jabhat al-Nosra (the latter accused of deviating from the Salafi methodology):

So what has changed to cause the leadership of Al-Qāʿidah to cause us grief, and to label us as the descendants of Ibn Muljim, and to label us as Khawārij?! Fear Allah regarding your selves! Fear Allah regarding the Mujāhidīn! What is your evidence for this that you incite people against them, you cause their blood to flow, you work for the destruction of their State and standing in its way! Tell us, by your Lord, what is your evidence?! 

Participating the Assad regime in a political transition

The Obama regime seem to be pushing for a negotiated solution between itself and Russia and other regional powers. While the House of Saud view the Syrian crisis as a proxy war for it to curtail Iran’s influence and vainly hope for an article seven intervention at the Security Council, the US is more pragmatic and recognises that a solution that maintains it regional hegemony and sense of control is far more important at the moment. Hillary Clinton tellingly stated the Obama regime’s priority to end the conflict includes the Assad regime making the decision to participate in a political solution:

The United States and other countries would discuss at a meeting of the Friends of Syria group in Marrakech next week what more they could do to try to bring the Syrian conflict to an end, she said.

“But that will require the Assad regime making the decision to participate in a political transition (and) ending the violence against its own people … We hope that they do so because we believe … that their fall is inevitable. It is just a question of how many people will die until that date occurs,” she said.

Reporting Hezbollah in Syria

Sky News (Arabic) and the S’ad  al-Harriri owned Al-Mustaqbal report the death of a Hezbollah commander named ‘Basel Hemada’ in Homs (obviously reiterating the ongoing sectarian agitation, that ‘Shi’ite’ cells or Israel’s ‘auld enemy’ are operative in the violent repression). The problem with the story is that the person identified resides in Lebanon, is not a member of Hezbollah, or any political party, and is alive and well! Surprised of stories of his demise, it is not surprising that Basel Hemada decided to sue Al-Mustaqbal for libel. The same story was also carried by an array of March 14 news outlets, including The Times of Israel.

This is not the first time similar news items are carried (usually from March 14 sources or a Syrian opposition faction) by established media such as France 24, Washington Times, The Guardian (also here), BBC, CBC News,  etc.  Sometimes journalists are genuinely ignorant of their sources or ideologically inclined to accept these stories and report them. It is akin to covering Barack Obama’s views with reference to right wing Tea Party sources.

Al-Arabiyya’s “absolute nonsense”

Al-Arabiyya (the House of Saud’s main propaganda news channel), since the uprising, has given the majority of its coverage to Syria, other than its ongoing obsession with Iranian affairs. Recently they have reported the uncovering of ‘secret’ regime documents. One document from a supposed intelligence branch known as the “apparatus of external intelligence” (an organ, according to the documents, based at the presidential palace) uncovers the following:

The two Turkish pilots, who were thought to have perished when their jet was shot down by Damascus, were actually rescued, interrogated and murdered by Syrian intelligence services, secret documents released Sept. 29 by Al Arabiya purported to show. The document that was allegedly sent directly from President Bashar al-Assad’s office to Brig. Hassan Abdel Rahman, the chief of Syria’s Special Operations Unit, reportedly first ordered the concerned parties to treat the two pilots, Air Force Cpt. Gökhan Ertan and Air Force Lt. Hasan Hüseyin Aksoy, according to the protocol of war prisoners. The documents then suggested the possibility of transferring them into the custody of Syrian ally Hezbollah in Lebanon. “Based on information and guidance from the Russian leadership, [there is] a need to eliminate the two Turkish pilots detained by the Special Operations Unit in a natural way, and their bodies need to be returned to the crash site in international waters,” the document said.

However, an official spokesman of the Turkish foreign ministry declared the documents and their supposed revelations, as “absolute nonsense”:

A claim by Saudi news channel Al Arabiya that two Turkish pilots were murdered by Syrian intelligence after their plane crashed June 22 is “absolute nonsense,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said yesterday as other ministry officials referred reporters to the findings of an autopsy the Turkish General Staff performed on the pilots’ bodies.

These documents, reported as an ‘exclusive’, are part of an uncovering of ‘hundreds’ of documents (documents sourced to the Syrian opposition):

The leaked documents are highly-classified Syrian security files obtained by Al Arabiya from opposition sources. The channel said that it has verified and authenticated hundreds of these documents

One of these documents uncovers a planned and executed arson in Qatar. The document reports a plot by a branch of Syria’s intelligence (the same branch named in a fabricated document regarding the alleged murder of two Turkish pilots) in coordination with Syria’s ambassador in Qatar. The documents are again sourced to the same “apparatus of external intelligence”, though it is questionable that such an apparatus actually exists.

Of course, the Syrian regime has numerous agents outside Syria that carry out assassinations, kidnappings and attempt to infiltrate different opposition factions (as has been the case for decades). However, the issue in these fabricated documents, is an attempt to utilise them by Al-Arabiyya, with no attempt to seriously verify its authenticity, for the propaganda ends of the House of Saud’s foreign policy.

Other than these documents, Al-Arabiyya also reported, based on a statement by an Egyptian official, that Egypt’s president (Muhammad Mursi) accepted the premise of sending forces from Arabic countries, to intervene in Syria. Sayf al-Deen Abdul-Fattah (an academic and personal consultant of Muhammad al-Mursi), the source originally cited, states Al-Arabiyya distorted what he actually stated. The original statement spoke of the dangers of any intervention, whether by Arabic countries or otherwise, with the Libyan example cited to illustrate how an Arabic intervention eventually led to an internationalisation of the situation, which, according to Sayf al-Deen Abdul-Fattah, should be considered a red line.

The above position, not to the liking of the House of Saud (seeking to instigate a similar intervention to Libya), was similarly re-confirmed by an official spokesman of Egypt’s presidency, stating any interference in Syria’s situation will only accentuate the crisis.

Iran & Russia signal frustrations with Bashar al-Assad

Iran’s foreign minister stated a closure to Bashar al-Assad’s grip on power is necessary but this needs to be negotiated as part of a broader political solution. The envisaged transition leads to elections in 2014, when Bashar al-Assad’s term ends.

No head of government is eternal, and such is the case with Bashar Al-Assad, in 2014 there are the presidential elections in which we must let events follow their normal course.

This falls within the Kofi Annan plan, with one of its six points clearly stipulating a transition to an open and transparent political solution.

Russia signalled that it will halt any new arms sales to Syria, due to the current situation. Again, indicating its disapproval of the regime’s heightened crackdown. While neither Russian or Iran have significantly altered their stance yet, there is some shift against the regime’s decision to escalate militarily and its attempt to force its own political solution. In other words, the Annan plan remains the cornerstone and the regime continues to hinder its implementation.

The Obama regime to work with Russia

It appears Russia’s direct hint that it may accept a transition from Bashar al-Assad, has indeed been synchronised with the Obama regime’s statement on supporting a ‘Yemen solution’ for Syria. The New York Times covers the meeting between Obama and  Dmitri Medvedev, with latter being receptive of the idea: 

When Mr. Obama brought it up with Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia at the Group of 8 meeting at Camp David last weekend, Mr. Medvedev appeared receptive, American officials said, signaling that Russia would prefer that option to other transitions in the Arab upheaval. During the meeting, “Medvedev raised the example of Mubarak in a cage,” a senior official said, referring to Mr. Mubarak’s confinement at his trial. The official, who requested anonymity because of the delicacy of the discussions, said Mr. Obama had then “countered with Yemen, and the indication was, yes, this was something we could talk about.”

This indicates the chief concern for the Obama regime is to maintain a regional stability (US hegemony) and Syria’s state security apparatus has played a role for that objective (though troublesome at times). With Russia now seeking an exit strategy that maintains some leverage over the country, the US is willing to acquiescence that Russia’s interests could be considered, in maintaining the broad skeleton of the regime, but with the departure of its head. It is difficult to predict what type of proposals would be considered, considering the current situation, if a consensus is agreed on this type of solution.

In other news, the SNC continues with its policy to strike alliances with any US backed opposition group or political faction, for political currency:

The opposition Syrian National Council has signed a partnership deal with Miami-based opponents of Cuba’s communist regime, which both sides said was aimed at fighting dictatorship in their countries.

The agreement was signed on Tuesday at a Miami hotel, officials said, noting that it constituted the creation of a united front and an exchange of ideas to boost democracy and respect for individual freedoms in Syria and Cuba.

Russia and a post Bashar al-Assad Syria

For months Russia has declared the need for dialogue between the opposition and the regime, while keeping some ambiguity if it envisages or tolerates a post-Bashar al-Assad Syria. There was talk of a national unity government headed by Qadri Jamil (a known figure from the Syrian left whose views feature regularly in the regime tolerated newspaper Kassioun) but with Bashar al-Assad remaining in power. Qadri Jamil recently visited Russia and met with Russian officials, indicating a high-level support of his candidacy, as a possible middle-ground figure between the regime and opposition. Though this supposed support was simultaneously part of a series of reforms that would include, at first, parliamentary elections, to be followed by a national unity government headed by a figure such as Qadri Jamil. Such a government could then open a pathway to a Russian sponsored national dialogue and a negotiated solution.

Qadri Jamil himself, while critical of the regime, has distanced himself from any abrupt changes or the overthrow of the regime, committed instead to a gradual change through reforms. While against calls to topple the regime, he has criticised the recent parliamentary elections which he declared, for example, as forged and re-affirming the power and influence of a certain clique of wealthy businessmen. His stance has always been a support of what he terms as paths to reform that starts with a national dialogue but also coupled with serious measures, such as the release of political prisoners. Yet there exists, according to Qadri Jamil, a clique within the regime that seeks to disrupt any movement in the path of substantive reform.

Recently there has been a possible signal from Russia that it is willing to accept a post-Bashar al-Assad Syria:

“Any outcome of the political reform suitable for the people of Syria will be absolutely suitable for Russia. We are nobody’s advocates in that process,” Ryabkov was quoted by Itar-tass news agency as saying, upon his return from the G8 summit held May 18-19 in the United States.

“If the Damascus administration is transformed without bloodshed, foreign interference, arms supplies, incitement to the use of force and so on and so forth, an alternative will satisfy us irrespective of the outcome,” he said.

Nevertheless, whatever solution emerges there remains the caveat that this end is reached with no military intervention or armed struggle. In other words, Russia seeks a solution that does not result from any armed faction (external or internal) imposing an agenda on Syria (something of concern, with an ongoing proxy-war between different power blocs). It is not coincidental that Sergei Ryabkov’s statement coincided with the Obama regime expressing support for a ‘Yemen solution’ for Syria. The ‘Yemen solution’ offers a mid-point alignment between both the US and Russia – a negotiated solution between different parties, that sees an end to Bashar al-Assad’s rule but with no military intervention.

Is there a US policy shift to arm the uprising?

One of the few documented large shipment of arms to Syrian rebels, from Libya, was intercepted by the Lebanese navy. So far, there is little evidence that Qatar or Saudi-Arabia have sent in large shipments, as there still remains significant US opposition to this move. Suzanne Rice again affirmed this position, placing hope in the Kofi Annan plan, while giving the Syrian National Council both material and political support, though with no ‘lethal’ (military support) to opposition groups (something also stated by Victoria Nuland).

As-Safeer (a Lebanese newspaper) published a reportage on some of these armed opposition groups and what emerges from most interviews are complaints of weapons supply but also the role of Turkish authorities in raiding and confiscating weapons along its borders. In other words, the Turkish authorities are not allowing weapons to reach fighters in Syria, nor will it allow its territory to be used as a base for opposition fighters.

Yet there are indications the Obama regime are now turning to possible options for the more likely scenario that Annan’s plan may fail and also to curtail the more pressing problem of emerging ‘Wahabi’ armed groups. Already there are considerations of a wider military confrontation and coordination with local client states in arming select opposition groups:

An official said that the policy shift followed diminished hopes of a political solution to the Syrian situation. Many in the White House consider a wider military confrontation, possibly drawing in Turkey, to be almost inevitable. Syrian rebels are now receiving more and better weapons, including anti-tank munitions, that have translated into successes in battle. This week, fighters from the Free Syrian Army killed 23 government soldiers in Rastan, destroying three armoured personnel carriers and capturing two.

That was an example of how the American co-ordination is functioning, with Washington using Syrian rebel contacts to assess which weapons are needed where and which groups were most deserving of military aid from the Saudis and Qataris.

Only a month ago, Syrian rebels were complaining of receiving no international aid, and many blamed Washington for urging restraint on its Gulf allies.

Regional security sources said that Qatar, which led the campaign to arm and train Libyan rebels last year, was ready to provide anti-tank rockets to the Syrian rebels if they could identify an effective military leadership.

For now, the Obama regime will likely wait and see out the Annan plan and keep hopes of negotiating a shift in Russian policy. Though as this happens, the situation on the ground is shifting, with the sprouting of Al-Qaeda like groups, there are concerns further complications will emerge in which many of these groups not only become dominant but also establish a foothold in Syria. Thus a policy shift and signs of encouragement to its allies to arm certain groups, is a possible attempt to control the arms flow and the groups that receive superior weaponry, giving them an upper-hand. Doing this, it seeks to adopt and sponsor certain armed groups to curtail other groups and so partially working out a solution to the problem of an anarchic and fragmented landscape. Meanwhile the Obama regime will continue to support the Annan plan and keep hopes of negotiating a shift in Russian policy. Though Russia may have sensed this plausible ploy and warned off the US and its allies from arming any opposition groups within Syria.

Burhan Ghalioun’s leaked emails confirms the already known

A group of pro-Syrian regime hackers have hacked into the email account of Burhan Ghalioun (head of the SNC). This is not the first major hack of the ‘Electronic Syrian Army’ – previously they were successful in hacking the emails of Al-Jazeera’s staff.

These emails, likely authentic, establish the already known regarding the alliances of the SNC. Below are some highlights:

(1) Adulation for the Saudi monarchy – Salutations were sent to Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister; below is an excerpt:

This compassion will remain in the memory and sentiments of the Syrian people. It will become an integral part of the history of Syria, sketching for it and the region a prosperous future based on freedom, tolerance, and national liberation.

This is nothing new, the SNC regularly releases statements that praise the visionary role of the Saudi monarchy and also actively participate in the monarchy’s propaganda campaign against Iran, often fabricating stories that are broadcast on different Saudi owned media outlets.

(2) No inhibitions regarding interviews with Israeli journalists, as shown from a reply to an email sent from an Israeli television journalist. Burhan Ghalioun, through a personal assistant, sends a message of encouragement to being interviewed by an Israeli channel but requests the interview be delayed, due to current commitments:

Professor Ghalioun thanks you for your letter. Due to time constraints and deadlines, it is difficult to conduct [the interview] at the moment but we will inform you of the suitable time without delay.

(3) Qatar as the main source of the SNC’s funding – The SNC owns a bank account in Qatar, through which millions are transferred for the various causes supported by the SNC.

(4) Close collaboration with the Obama regime, to the extent that one email sends advice on which Russian diplomats to meet. In one correspondence, to both Basma al-Qodmani and Burhan Ghalioun,  Frederic C. Hof (Special Coordinator for Regional Affairs) recommends a Russian diplomat, solely on the basis that he may be more responsive to the US regional position.

(5) I previously noted on the SNC’s close ties with the Lebanese US backed March 14 coalition, this is further confirmed in an internal email that recommends sending a message of congratulations to Samir Ja’ Ja’, a notorious Phalange military commander during the Lebanese civil war, for allegedly escaping an assassination attempt orchestrated by the Syrian regime.

(5) Dissent regarding Basma al-Qudmani, due to a statement made on a possible immunity from prosecution, if Bashar al-Assad steps down and leaves Syria. Another issue highlighted was the embarrassment generated for the SNC, due to a circulation of her appearance on a French television programme (from 2009), where she declares the need for Israel in the region. The email registering the complaint was from Farouk Tayfour (deputy of the General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria). Similar complaints were made by Yasser S’ad al-Deen, son of ‘Adnan S’ad al-Deen (former head of the Brotherhood); in an article he strongly critiques Basma Qodmani and here ‘defeatist personality’, for her views and general commitment to the Zionist project.

(6) Disquiet with Burhan Ghalioun’s leadership of the SNC, where some members request more transparency and accountability within the council. There is also a questioning of renewing Burhan Ghalioun’s leadership, as this sets precedent and questions the credibility of the SNC.

(7) Problems with Kurdish opposition factions and an insistence that no extra Kurdish demands will be met (this was after the withdrawal of the Kurdish National Council from the SNC). Instead, according to one email, “The Kurdish components must take a position and work to attract more Kurdish energies present on the ground”.

Finally, the emails demonstrate substantive differences within the council, even on its leadership. However, the emails do not uncover anything novel and the alliances of the SNC are already known, including its coordination with US imperialism.

From an uprising to a civil war dynamic?

Der Spiegel have published an interview with an injured fighter from Homs, seeking treatment in Lebanon. The account he provides confirms a ‘Human Rights Watch’ report on human rights violations by anti-regime armed groups. The executioner, interviewed, declares the communal identity of his victims (“Shi’ite”), with another identifying the three enemies as “Hezbollah, Iran and the Assad regime”. The account shows not only a confrontation with regime forces but also a civil war dynamic between communities in Homs. Of course, the scale of killing could be exaggerated, a form of boasting from the interviewee, but the sentiments shown are very clear. Arabic and opposition media continue to represent events as an uprising, which still exists, but the spectre of a civil war has now emerged. Despite evidence of sectarian revenge killings, torture and kidnapping, leaders of the SNC still deny this dynamic. Growing claims for ‘arming the uprising’ assume a uniform leadership and central command, rather than an assortment of armed groups, often sectarian, within what is a civil war dynamic. A plethora of brigades and armed groups regularly kidnap, torture and kill on mere suspicion; the idea that weapon supply can discriminate in its delivery, with a chaotic situation on the ground, to reach ‘heroic revolutionaries’ is fictitious.

So far, imperialist powers have committed to “non-lethal” support for opposition fighters, while discouraging their client states from arming the rebels. The fear, for US imperialism, is the sprouting of Al-Qaeda type groups and broader security fears for US hegemony in the region (controlling the political solution). The key issue is to control the situation through backing the opposition as a leverage and directly working through its client states. Hopes are placed on diplomatic efforts, initially through Kofi Annan’s UN backed plan but there remains eventualities if it fails. The Gulf countries (the Saudi and Qatari monarchies) adopt a more hawkish stance and seek to instigate a full armed revolt that they believe will implement their strategy of regime change. In other words, they have no interests in any eventuality that any part of Bashar al-Assad’s regime should survive (the SNC, for example, have released a document arguing for a nation building policy for Syria [post-Bashar al-Assad] that includes what is termed as a ‘Marshall plan’. Such ideas of ‘nation building’ are similar to US policies in Iraq and signal a strategic shift and dependency in the new institutions and structures of the Syrian state – in the parlance of the Obama regime an ‘administered and orderly transition’).

It is not clear if a decision to directly arm rebels has been taken in Riyadh or Doha, though already Saudi-Arabia has pressed Jordan to opens its borders to arms:

Saudi Arabia has pressed Jordan to open its border with Syria to allow weapons to reach rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, officials from both countries say, a move that could buoy Syria’s opposition and harden the conflict in the country and across the region.

While Saudi-Arabia may have not yet shipped arms, it has, since the beginning of the uprising, funded or allowed/encouraged sectarian channels, that preach hatred and the need for ‘Jihad’ against Shi’ites. For example, a known pro-Saudi ‘Salafi’ preacher, states it is a religious obligation for every Syrian to take up arms against the regime and for others, outside Syria, to join the struggle. The struggle, in his terms, is against a Shi’ite menace of Hezbollah, Iran and the Alawite sect. These preachers are not Al-Qaeda affiliates/supporters, the very opposite, but Saudi monarchy aligned preachers.

Al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria?

A shadowy group calling itself ‘Jabhat Nusrat al-Shaam’ has recently appeared and supposedly declared responsibility for recent bombings in Damascus and Aleppo. It is difficult to vouch for the authenticity of this group or the claimed responsibility for recent bombings (the statement of responsibility, cited by BBC Arabic, was published on a discussion board), with suspicions raised that they are another regime ploy. Abu-Baseer al-Tartousi, a prominent Syrian Salafi-Jihadi, views them as an unknown group led by unknown individuals (as they are masked in their own messages).

However, more extreme Salafi Jihadi groups and individuals (e.g. more aligned to the ‘Islamic state of Iraq’ and ‘Ansar al-Shar’iah’ in Yemen) view them as not only authentic but also calls on fighters to join them. The Syrian regime may seek to infiltrate like groups but the language and debates raised by these groups are very centric to a Jihadi-Salafi sub-culture.